Change is good, or so they say. These South Floridians have learned it’s true by overcoming their concerns, fears and uncertainty to reinvent themselves—all for the better.
Matthew “Whiz” Buckley
PREVIOUS LIFE: U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter pilot
CURRENT PROFESSION: Founder & CEO Top Gun Options (financial company)
The moment my life and career changed was when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North World Trade Center the morning of September 11, 2001. I had left active duty from the Navy in late 2000 to pursue the dream airline pilot career of working one day a month and flying to exotic locations around the world. As I took my brand-new American Airlines uniform out of the plastic, my wife came into the bedroom with a horrified look on her face and told me that I needed to take a look at the TV. The first thing I noticed was that the weather in New York was beautiful and the impact hole in the World Trade Center’s north tower was too large for a small plane. As I stood there in stunned silence, going through my mental aviation checklist of how such a thing could have happened, I saw an airliner streak in from the right side of the screen and explode in a massive ball of fire and debris into the side of the second tower. My heart jumped. I knew we were under attack.
I ran into the bedroom, reached past my brand-new American Airlines uniform, and grasped for the familiar feel of my well-worn green Navy flight suit. I zipped it up as fast as I could, pulled on my flight boots, and ran out the door, nearly tripping on laces I hadn’t tied. I broke the land speed record getting out to Naval Air Station Fort Worth, and got through the gate just as they locked it down and went to THREATCON 5—the highest combat posture. I went from flying an airliner that day for the first time to possibly shooting one down. A couple of days after the attacks we were sitting alert and I scrambled and forced down an aircraft that was flying near Presidential airspace around Crawford, TX.
When I was hired by American Airlines, I received a nice letter on colored stationery, signed personally by the Chief Pilot. On October 1, 2001, I received a photocopied letter from American Airlines HR that started with: “Dear Crewmember”. Since I was one of the newest hires at American Airlines, I was immediately furloughed, along with thousands of other pilots. Furloughed is airline-speak for “laid off”.
I lost everything—my job, my healthcare, my retirement. We had just bought our first house—we had lived in military housing for 10 years—and we had used up what little money we saved in the Navy for a down payment. But I still had my family and I needed to provide for them. I was going to take control of my future. I wasn’t going to let myself become complacent again. And never again would I put all my eggs in one basket.
THE HAPPY ENDING:
I directed all of my energy into something that until this point, I never thought of as a full-time career: my stock and options trading. I started trading stocks and options as a young fighter pilot and immediately recognized something interesting. The same discipline and risk management methodologies that allowed me to successfully fly and fight the Hornet over the skies of Iraq could be applied to my trading as well. It worked. Extremely well. Eventually I popped up on the radar of a leading Wall Street equity options volatility arbitrage trading firm. I was brought on as the Managing Director of Strategy. We grew from 99 people and $150M to over $2.5B and 600 people in 3 years. A couple years later I became the founder and CEO of the Options News Network. We pro-vided a behind-the-scenes look at the options market to average retail traders and investors, the “CNBC for Options”. It would be an understatement to say that I felt like Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) in Trading Places. I have a saying: “Trading is combat.” There’s a winner and there’s a loser, and at Top Gun Options I train my members to win.