Turtle Traders

Famous commodities trader Richard Dennis was having an ongoing debate with his friend and business partner Bill Eckhardt about whether great traders are born or made – whether it is possible to teach the ability to trade successfully.

While Dennis firmly believed that trading abilities could be broken down into a quantifiable system of rules that can be taught, Eckhardt felt the ability was something innate.

Dennis suggested that they recruit and train some traders and give them actual accounts to trade to see who was right on this issue.

They placed a large ad in Barrons, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times stating that they were seeking trading apprentices, who after a short training period would be given accounts to trade. From 1,000 applicants, 80 were interviewed and ultimately ten individuals were selected. They were invited to Chicago and trained for two weeks in December 1983. The number of Turtles became 13 after Dennis added three people he knew to the list.

Dennis taught a trend following trading methodology to the group of inexperienced students, and nicknamed them ‘Turtles’. Dennis, having recently returned from Singapore explained the name by telling the Wall Street Journal “We are going to grow traders just like they grow turtles in Singapore.”

They began trading live accounts shortly after completing their course. Dennis won the bet – over the next four years the Turtles earned an average annual compound rate of return of 80%. Jerry Parker of Chesapeake Capital Corp. was a turtle and now manages more than US$1 billion.

Richard Dennis, one of the most famous and successful traders in the world at the time, told the Wall Street Journal “Trading was even more teachable than I imagined. In a strange sort of way, it was almost humbling.”

Richard Dennis was featured in the original Market Wizards book by Jack Schwager, a classic of trading literature.