Careers in Commodities and Real Estate Ventures Fueled by ADHD w/ Bill Hamlen
Bill Hamlen was born in Schenectady, NY and raised in Bernardsville, NJ where he attended Bernards High School. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1984, Bill joined Drexel Burnham’s commodity division. While at Drexel, Bill worked in various areas including the international order desk as well as many different “pits” including all of the metals, softs, and oil pits. He eventually landed a permanent position on the oil desk that included a year in Singapore where petroleum derivatives were just developing. After leaving Drexel in 1990, Bill worked at Rafferty Associates and United Energy brokering various energy derivatives. In 2001, Bill joined Westport Petroleum, Inc. in their Singapore and London offices where he started a clean product trading desk specializing in the international arbitrage of jet fuel, gasoil, various grades of gasoline, and alkylates. In 2005 he moved over to Westport’s heavy fuel oil desk in Singapore and specialized in the international arbitrage of heavy crudes and fuel oil. In 2007, Bill joined Vitol Singapore’s heavy fuel oil desk and worked there until his retirement in 2015. While at Westport and later Vitol, he sourced heavy streams in the USGC, Mexico, Venezuelan, Ecuador, Colombia, Russian, Bulgaria, The Middle East, Iraq, India, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesian, Thailand, and Malaysia among others. He also supplied blended fuel to ships in Singapore as well as power plants throughout Asia and the Middle East including India, Pakistan, East Africa, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, and Vietnam as well as many other smaller destinations. He also managed the complex hedging activities necessitated by all of these physical movements. After leaving Vitol, Bill and his wife began a second career as real estate investors via their privately held Leeward Holdings with properties on Nantucket and in Hanover, NH. Bill was married in 1996 and has two daughters and the family currently lives in Hanover, NH. Among other achievements, he is an Eagle Scout, a PADI certified diver, and completed a NOLS course as a teenager. He has extensive open water sailing experience having participated on multiple voyages in the Caribbean and Pacific. He is also the Chair of Planned Giving for the Class of ’84 at Dartmouth, the VP for the Association of Planned Giving Chairs at Dartmouth, and has served many other volunteer roles at the College. Even his abridged bio is incredible!!
Today we learn how his daughter’s ADHD diagnosis led to a better understanding of his own superpower, and how his ADHD has been serving him for many, many years. Enjoy!
In this episode Peter and Bill Hamlen discuss:
2:14 – Intro and welcome Bill Hamlen!
4:45- So, how were you able to hyper-focus with all of that financial responsibility?
6:56- Stock trading and related chaos.. those are places where the faster brain really thrives?
7:23- Was there something about the pits that gave you a sense of Zen, or sort of a quiet hum?
8:50- So then how did you train yourself to come up for air and get out of hyperfocus?
9:56- Tell me about how ADHD affects your personal life and the different tools you use to keep that part of you solid too?
13:47- ADHD and addiction are very close to each other. Did you have a similar situation?
16:32- What do you wish you’d known back then, that you know now about your ADHD and about sort of the way you’ve lived?
18:50- How can people find more about your reach out to you if they have any questions or if they want to share, if you’re willing to give us some info on how to get to you? Mr. William Hamlen on LinkedIN
19:19 – Thank you Bill! Guys, as always, we are here for you and we love the responses and the notes that we get from you; so please continue to do that! Tell us who you want to hear on the podcast, anything at all; we’d love to know. Leave us a review on any of the places you get your podcasts, and if you ever need our help I’m www.petershankman.com and you can reach out anytime via [email protected] or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterNormal on all of the socials. It really helps when you drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse!
19:46 – Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits
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Hey everyone! My name is Peter Shankman. You are listening to Faster Than Normal. We have taken a hiatus. This is our first episode back in about a month and a half. It was a good holiday season. It was fun COVID times now. And, but we’re back it’s it’s early January. Daughter’s homeschooling again. And we are thrilled to be back with all new episodes. We have some incredible episodes that we’ve already recorded coming down the pike. You’re going to be very, very happy with what you hear in the new year. So I hope you guys are safe and well and vaccinated. And I want to introduce Bill.
So Bill reached out to me after his daughter was diagnosed with ADHD in 2016 and he was based in Singapore and sure enough, I happened to be in Singapore right around that time for keynote. We weren’t able to get together, but we did stay in touch and I found Bill’s backstory and bio very, very fascinating. So I want to share it with you guys. Bill was born in Schenectady, New York and raised in New Jersey. He attended high school and Dartmouth. He joined a company in 84 called Drexel Burnham. I don’t know if you, for those who are young and don’t remember Drexel Burnham, Drexel Burnham was, um, one of the old school financial firms-the, I think the joke around that, around early nineties when things started to go south was that if Merrill Lynch and Drexel Burnham merge, would we call the company Lynch and Burnham. But I remember Drexel from the day and he worked in various and Bill worked in various areas there, including the international order desk, as well as many of the different pits, including all the metals softs and oil pits, and if you watched Wall Street And you see how crazy they get when they’re trying to sell a stock or buys or whatever. Imagine that. 400 times the speed. He wound up eventually in the oil desk, he wound up in Singapore. He’s got a bunch of stuff. He since reinvented his life, he started a second career along with his wife as real estate investors, um, in Nantucket and it Hanover New Hampshire, but keep in mind, he’s ADHD. Because of that, obviously he couldn’t just do one thing. He’s an Eagle scout. He’s a PATO certified diver. He’s completed a NOLS course. He has extensive open water sailing experiences. He’s competed multiple voyages in the Caribbean and Pacific. He’s also chair of planned giving to the class of 84 Dartmouth, the VP of association, giving care to Dartmouth in addition to many other volunteer roles. Bill welcome. And you sound as crazy as I am. So it’s great to have you.
Thank you, Peter. It’s funny. My wife jokes that I over-schedule myself. And I always say, well, I just schedule to my maximum ability, and then you come to me with extra things to do and that’s when I get over tasked.
Exactly. And I’m sure that goes very well. I’m sure that goes over very well when, when you explained to her that. One of the things that I find fascinating; you work the trading desks, right. And I mean, you started, uh, you know, after you left Drexel, you, you, you joined Westport Petroleum and then the second point trading in London offices, you started a clean product trading desk there, especially as in the international arbitrage of jet fuel gas, oil barrier, spades, gasoline, and alkalines basically, you were doing stuff where if you fell off.. we’re talking millions or billions of dollars wiped off the balance sheet in half a second. So what I’d love to know, and I’m just gonna dive right into this. How were you able to, I mean, I know hyper-focus is a thing for people like us, but that would scare the living crap out of me. How were you able to hyper-focus that well?
Um, it’s funny. I would almost put it in the, oh, I w I would reverse that, that when I first got into commodities, everything suddenly made sense. It was like a, the Rubik’s cube pieces fell into place. The what, what to some people looks like total chaos to me was order. And the sitting on a desk with a bunch of phones ringing South Paulo, Brazil would call Hong Kong would call and you have to place orders and all the various pits. It was easy to me. In fact, that was fun. It was like a big game. So I always feel like I never worked a day in my life. All I did was basically play games. The games happened to be commodities and, but it was making order out of chaos. That just seemed. Um, soothing in a way. And so what from the outside looked stressful to me seemed like fun, like a big game, really. And then going down to the floor, the, you know, I was kind of in a commodity training program. So I worked in every pit learned about every, you know, orange juice, cotton. Someone was out, you’d have to go over there, then go to the gold pit. And you know, all that chaos was, it was just a big game. Uh, to me at least, or it seemed like a big game and the game was to make as much money as possible. Um, at that point though, it was just clerking. I wasn’t trading and, um, it, you know, but I basically found my home and I, and I think in fact, if you go to a lot of, you know, wall street companies or commodity companies, and you look at the trading desk, you’ll see a bunch of guys with ADHD. Uh, a couple of sociopaths, maybe a psychopath and a, and a bunch of engineers kind of keeping it all together, but there’s a huge concentration of people with ADHD in commodities. And, um, it’s, it’s not a given, but you, you could see them. It’s just clear as daylight.
So it’s one of those places where the faster brain really thrives?
Oh, absolutely. In fact, it’s funny a couple of years ago, um, I have a, uh, former colleague, he went to Duke really, really played lacrosse there. Um, and I was joking. I asked him about ADHD and he looked at me like, I’m an idiot. Like, of course I am, I mean, that, that’s how accepted and common it was. Um, yeah. And so there’s a lot of people that, that seem to gravitate, um, to that type of chaos and that, and find it, find harmony there.
I’m curious as to, how do I phrase this? When, when I get into a zone, when I’m doing something that I truly love, let’s say I’m on a plane to Asia and I’m writing, I’m writing a book or something like that. I get into a zone and I just sort of have. I guess the best way to put it is this quiet hum in my head, that is my call it my hyper-focus hum. Right? And it just, no matter what chaos is happening, no matter whether there’s turbulence or whether the flight attendants come over with food or whatever, the case may be, two people are fighting behind me; it doesn’t matter that hum is keeping me Zen and focused. Did you find that the same thing? Was there something about the pits that gave you that same sort of hum for lack of a better word?
Well, I would, I get what you’re saying, but it’s funny in more realistic terms when I was in Singapore, I’d be on the desk in a conversation, looking at a spreadsheet, you know, maybe calculating what something’s worth, but on the phone at the same time, talking to someone I’d look up. And it was, you know, 10:20, and there was no one else in the desk because we had a meeting scheduled at 10. I would not even notice everyone could leave the room, I’d be there. And then I w- but it didn’t just happen once, you know, it would happen over and over and over again. And I, I had to really work hard. To, to get out of that. Hyper-focus but I know exactly what you mean.
Well, what it’s, here’s an interesting question. What did you do? What did you, how did you train yourself? Did you involve other people? Did you say, Hey, when you’re going into a meeting, you know, reach out to me, what did you do to get people into that? To, to, to, to get yourself, you know, helping with that?
Well, I can tell you, it is funny. Like when I was on the phone, if I was sitting at my desk, I’d get bored. Um, so I would stand up and pace around the office in giant circles. Um, just to keep my brain focused. That’s just how my head works. If I’m sitting at a desk and not doing something else at the same time, I kind of get bored. So I, um, so I came up with little tools okay. Based around the office and I would have a more meaningful conversation. In order to make the meeting, I would just schedule reminders that, I schedule reminders for everything. I’m a big list kind of guy. Um, I have lists for everything and those lists I create helped me, um, you know, keep order.
Yep. Tell me about your personal life. So, so your, uh, ADHD is obviously very, very beneficial for you in this regard. Tell me about how it affects your personal life and what, what sort of changes or, uh, different things you’ve had to do to get there.
Well, the it’s hard to go there without telling kind of the backstory of my kind of discovery. And it has a lot to do with our daughter, who, um, at a certain age, in fact, this is what gets me angry about ADHD. And this is one of the reasons why I reached out; because her journey and my journey, um, it’s a very typical situation I think. She was in seventh grade. Um, and we got called to school. This is UWC in Singapore. Um, and to give an idea, the level of understanding of ADHD in Singapore is there are about 25 to 40 years behind where we are here.
I actually interviewed this doctor, on the podcast, a psychologist, the podcast from Singapore and she said, exactly the same thing.
Oh, yeah. It’s like stepping back in time, in fact, so, okay. So w we go into, um, we find out that she’s struggling in math, she’s just above the red line. They wanted to put her in learning support. And I fought back the vehemently because I believe that once she got into learning support, she would never get out. It’s like a black hole and. So we had her tested independently and guess what? She’s very, her processing speed was off the charts. Um, in fact, at one point we had her tested again for something else. And the, the woman that did the test said, I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I probably test 15 to 20 kids a year and she’s the first one that has ever completed one of the sections. And so, and we started, so my wife and I, we looked back and it at her school in second grade, they said, we think maybe she has an eyesight issue. She needs glasses. So we had her eyesight tested, we’re scratching our heads. And, um, anyway, fast forward, she, um, she started on Conserta
Yup. That’s my drug of choice also.
Right. Okay. Then we read, um, uh, uh, uh, Dr. Ned Hallowell’s book, um, Delivered from Distraction. Yes. And we started listening to podcasts and everything kind of fell in place. In fact, I forgot one key part of this. Is that, um, we had her tested and at the same time, my wife was reading the diagnosis of someone else that had ADHD and she’s reading it and she’s like, oh my God, that’s our daughter. And that’s when everything kind of fell in place. So it was kind of a combination of both the testing and, um, Yeah. And the reading diagnosis of someone else with ADHD. So at that point, I began to look back at my life and realize, huh, I like chaos at my own little Rubik’s cube. All the pieces fell into place and I began to realize all the things I’ve been doing to cope. You know, I get up, I run in the morning in central park, when I lived in New York, I’d have coffee, I’d do all these different things. I needed to work out just to be able to see straight and, um, You know, so I began to see all the commonalities of the, um, Of the things I did to deal with it, and I guess it, um, and then I looked back at my career that, you know, for me, I liked playing games. I like eating good food. I like drinking good booze and commodity trading kind of combines all those things that I enjoy. And so, like I said, I never felt like I worked a day in my life. It was all kind of a big fun game to me. Um, so it was kind of perfect for someone who has ADHD.
Let me ask the question. Um, it’s it’s you’re you touched an interesting point. It’s one of those industries where, you know, you work hard, but you also play hard. Right? I mean, I know just, just my, uh, my, um, uh, financial adviser, right. Once a year, he takes me out to dinner. He shows me how my portfolio is doing and, and, you know, five drinks in right? He doesn’t..you know it’s not that we’re going out to drink- you treat the client well, right, in any, in any sort of financial industry. So did that affect you at all? Did you, I mean, I know that I have a very precarious relationship with alcohol and a lot of that is connected to ADHD. ADHD and addiction are very close to each other. Did you have a similar situation?
Yes, that would be, you know, I probably, um, well.. It depends in New York one, doesn’t really go out to lunch really. Um, in Singapore, in, in London, it’s kind of a different story. So, and it is very much, um, well, I should say, if you look at say the, the world of oil trading, it’s a giant fraternity and it’s a giant fraternity, um, of people that know each other and entertainment plays a big role in, in that industry. So you work very hard all day and you go out and celebrate at night. Um, and yeah, it, um, it plays a big role. Yeah.
It never, it never affected you the point where you’re like, okay, I probably shouldn’t do this or I should cut back on anything that that?
Um, well, for me, I can tell you, it was very clear when I was in my early fifties, I began to feel, um, diminished resilience. And that was really more a function of the stress, um, that, you know, without going too deep into it, sometimes when you have huge positions, um, you walk in and you ready to have a heart attack. And for the first up until my early fifties, I suppose if I had a superpower, it was the ability to endure enormous amounts of stress without thinking about it and I began to feel that that resilience diminishing, and that was my body speaking to me and saying, Hey, it’s time to slow down. So for me, the signal was more about stress and less about other things. Um, I also, as I said, always would get up and need to workout first thing in the morning or at lunch. And I think that. Um, I think that the French have an expression to drink enough water with your wine and need enough salad with your foie gras, you know, working out, um, was always a way to balance out that aspect of you know, of my life.
That’s very smart. So tell us last steps. What do you wish you’d known back then that you know now about your ADHD and about sort of the way you’ve lived?
That’s a good question. Um, what do I wish I’d known before? Well, I think the, maybe I would turn that around a little bit and, and, and say that, um, I’ve heard that expression; it’s like a Maserati engine with a bicycle brakes. And I think the understanding that ADHD can be a superpower was a transformational concept for me and for my daughter, but maybe more for young people. And I recently have had a friend whose son was diagnosed with ADHD and from the questionings, the line of questions he was asking, and from the tone in his voice, I got this sense that he’d been given some negative messaging from the school. And I thought, how tragic that was that, you know, it can be. And I, and I understand there’s the, you know, there’s a full spectrum for me. And I think in our family, a high processing speed is, is a part of it with less of the maybe other hyperactive issues. Right. And so we’re able to harness that superpower and I get that it it’s diff you know, everyone’s a little bit different and that there are more difficult challenges that some people face but I think the understanding that, um, ADHD really can be a superpower is such a powerful message. And in understanding that figuring out how to channel that energy into the right direction, I think I was simply lucky to find something where I was able to channel it appropriately. Um, I don’t think my knowing that I had ADHD would have helped me find.. I kind of stumbled into something that I loved And, but I think that, um, I think the, you know, to understand that people with ADHD have a superpower and it’s important to try to find things in life well, ways to, to live with it, but also ways to channel it. Um, I think is the, is a message that, you know, I’d like to share because for me it was, it was a superpower.
Yeah, I love that. What a great way to when it end., um, Bill, I really appreciate that. How can people find more about your reach out to you if they have any questions or if they want to share, if you’re willing to give us some info on how to get to you? I’m on LinkedIn. That’s probably the easiest. Sounds good. And we’ll put that, we’ll put that link in the, in the show notes. Uh, it’s under William Paul Hamlen. [actually under Mr. William Hamlen] Thank you so much for taking the time. I really, really appreciate it. You’re our first interview of the year and it was definitely a good one. We’d love to have you back in several months as well to tell us what else you’re working on.
Alright Peter, thanks, Happy New Year!
Thanks again guys. As always, you were listening to Faster Than Normal. We love that you’re here. Welcome back! This is going to be a really great year. We have a lot of new things coming up. I’ll tell you right now we have some open space; you want to be on the podcast; you think you have an interesting story? Let us know what it is! I’m sure if you, if it’s interesting to us, it’s interesting to other people out there and you can help tell that story and share the ADHD is a gift, not a curse. We’ve been saying that since day one, we’ll see you next week. Stay safe, stay healthy. Wear a mask.
Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at www.FasterThanNormal.com I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at petershankman.com and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were composed and produced by Steven Byrom who also produces this podcast, and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week.