Conor Woodman stops providentially short of being the proverbial Jack (...of all trades, master of none). He trades relentlessly, but escapes the unflattering epithet because he masters a few. He flits from trade to trade, but it doesn't hint at a flaky, flawed persona, for he works on a grand premise with noble intent. Yet, Jack offers more empirical learning with seven wisely strung words than Conor does with his '80 trades'.
Woodman, a corporate financial analyst with a sizeable salary and an unpliable conscience, worked in London for a US firm. When, in 2004, he was forced to inform a bunch of employees about their exit from a firm, he was riven by guilt and lapsed into introspection. Inspired by remorse and grappling for answers, he quit his job and sought recourse in an unlikely concept.
The concept: Do ancient trading patterns have a bearing on the way the world conducts its business today? Does analysing human behaviour make it conducive to trading and better living?
To execute it,Woodman sold his flat, booked an around-the-world ticket and took off from Sudan in north Africa to trade his way through southern Africa, India, Central Asia, China, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, Brazil and London. He started with $50,000, aiming to double the investment in five months by scouting for, investing in and trading products ranging from horses, camels and jade to chilli sauce, wood and coffee. His ensuing adventures make the book an endearing read, replete with spunk and levity, searing insights about nations and a sprightly narrative. There's the rare juxtaposition of the current economic failings and the benefits of the old trading style, but there are no techniques, numbers or a self-help format to guide an entrepreneur. So, despite a concept so riveting in its enterprise, the work is achingly bleak in its application.
Sniffing out an enterprise helps tide over an economic downturn, but it's easy to do so with wherewithal and worthy contacts, a la Woodman. The author does find answers to his dilemma—"The world isn't dominated by big businesses... most of it is a product of small bucks generated by people making a living. And living is what it's all about." But an entrepreneur will need more than the benign advice to stop himself from turning into a Jack—instead of a Conor.