John Lin’s worked as a trader all his life. First, in the trading pits of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, then in London and Tokyo, before finally settling in Singapore. In 2006, just as the SIMEX open outcry trading pits closed, John founded Grasshopper, and began afresh with electronic trading. Over a decade later, Grasshopper is now a leading proprietary trading firm in Asia.
These days, as Chairman of Grasshopper, John guides an exceptional collection of low-ego and competent teammates through the trenches of trading, technology, and constant disruption. He also makes time for his family, golf, kitesurfing, and travelling the world for great music, uncommon truths and incredible friendships.
And here’s the longer, personal version:
My family roots originate from Guangdong, Southern China (my father’s side), and Shandong northern China (my mother’s side). Both fled the war in China to Taiwan, where they met and married. My father fled to Taiwan via Vietnam after defending their ancestral home, and my mother and her sisters were stowed on a last minute plane (laden with bananas) leaving China.
One sister would marry an admiral that survived three dive bomber attacks. One would go on to earn her Ph.D. and researched for the Rockefeller Foundation through Mongolia and beyond, and my mother would work for the United Nations for 30 years. She remains to this day fiercely independent, motivated, and steadfast as the matriarch of our family.
From 1970 onwards, we were the typical immigrant family. Hard-pressed but scrappy, my two older brothers somehow struggled through a few years of NYC public school. One of my brothers carried a knife on him until he graduated college. We were rarely in need but I only realized later that we were truly eking out an existence.
As you can tell, I am proud of my family and our American story. By adulthood, we had all graduated from boarding schools and universities; those old days of being a struggling immigrant seem like history.
I hope we never forget it. God bless America and all those countries that look beyond their own borders.
My father rose the rank of Captain in the Taiwan Navy and ran PT patrols and supply frigates in the Taiwan Straits to the outlying islands off the coast of mainland China under the occasional fire of watchful land artillery.
When I was five, I attended Franklin School #3 in Passaic, New Jersey. Talk about a “stranger in a strange land”! Speaking not a word of English, I was the last kid to learn how to tie a shoe in kindergarten, apparently a key skill in those pre-velcro days.
I loved that school, smack middle in the bluest of blue collar towns. Perhaps in an attempt to keep me busy, my teachers advocated that I get tested and I ended up skipping third grade.
By age 11, I had my first job as a golf caddy, which I did for two summers. Carrying two bags and 4 putters (2 walkers, 2 carts) ended up being a huge amount of money (70$ in 1981) and if I was lucky I might do two rounds in a day- Not bad for a kid weighing 110lbs who had zero clue about what he was doing.
Jobs create character; and I don’t think kids work enough these days. I’ve been a waiter, line cook, dishwasher, busboy, fruit stacker, burger boy, lab assistant, and doorman. One quickly learns that it’s no fun working in WORK that one loathes.
One of the many awesome things about America is its emphasis on extracurricular activity. Now living in suburban New Jersey (with my brothers in University), scouting, swimming, fishing and baseball were major aspects of my life.
Through some hard work and luck, I was admitted to the Lawrenceville School as a boarding student. That experience changed the trajectory of my life and I strongly advocate that today’s helicopter parents let go of their mollycoddling. Many of my best friends to this very day are from Lawrenceville.
By now, a skinny banana (yellow outside, white inside) with a towering flat-top haircut… those fresh-off-the-boat days were distant. I was as American as anyone- funny how that seems more correct to say in 1986 than 2020.
Still growing up
My university days at Cornell were a massive mashup of academia and fraternity HIJINX with the latter winning out more often. What I really learned in university was that your community mattered a lot more than your grades.
In my junior year, I had a revelation to spend the summer in San Francisco, and I started to look for my calling. It’s tough to find one’s purpose, but I clearly knew that it was not being shackled to a desk in a corporate matrix.
My brother was a trader, and because of that, I found myself in Chicago slumming it with another great Cornell friend in his one room studio, while looking for a job at the epicenter of capitalism: the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. I took a job as a clerk for $12,000 USD a year- a quarter of what I could have earned as a professional engineer.
That led to my most ideal job in the world- and I have been an independent trader ever since. I developed an instinct and most importantly, I learned the traders’ ethos of “no ego”. Eventually I traded with fluidity and in absence of predetermined outcome- and after a few years, I rarely had drawdowns.
From my very first day on the floor, I knew that one day technology would transform the crazy open outcry pits to fully electronic trading. I was lucky enough to be part of this amazing career for 15 years till 2015 – from the CME, CBOT, LIFFE, TIFFE, OSE, and finally SGX (Singapore Exchange). What started out as a gut feeling in my 20s mushroomed into a life halfway around the world.
Then, in 2006, I started a brand new phase of my life… I started Grasshopper.