Tom Hoffman, Lakeside’s Security-trading Security Guard

Every morning by the gates of the middle school parking lot, middle schoolers are greeted by their jolly security guard, Tom Hoffman. He isn’t hard to find, whether he’s locking the doors after school, watching the field from the basketball court, or hollering, “Last call for Metro!” But if you stop by his office at the end of the day, you’ll meet a different Tom, wearing glasses and carefully analyzing the numbers on his computer screen, one who’s not just looking after security but securities.

Before he was an investor or a nuclear custodial agent, Tom was a middle schooler in Seattle. He recalls a different atmosphere than the one here at Lakeside. “Every day in the playground, there would be fistfights, and teachers would just go, ‘Okay, you go this way. You go that way.’ There was a lot less support.” Luckily for Tom, he wouldn’t have to stay in the school system long; at 17, he left Roosevelt High School to join the military. It wasn’t the guns or the fighting or even patriotism, necessarily, that drew Tom into the military — it was opportunity. “I had a kind of a hard upbringing — bad family life — so it was my lack of education, my lack of schooling, that brought me into the military. It was 1980, and a friend of mine told me that you can get into the military at 17 without a high school diploma… pretty much just raw opportunity.”

Tom looks back on his years in the military fondly, even if he sometimes got more than he bargained for. He vividly remembers a time he underwent a wall locker inspection. He ensured his locker was spotless, rolling up his socks and uniform neatly and cleaning the inside. The drill sergeant came and found the wall locker Tom had left spick and span and was rather pleased… or so Tom thought. Without warning, he dragged his finger across the top of the locker, raised it, and blew on it, showering Tom in dust. “Your wall locker is filthy!” he screamed. He then threw the carefully organized contents of Tom’s locker onto the floor, but he was still not finished with Tom. He stormed into the bed bunk, cleaning his dirtied finger on Tom’s sheets before declaring, “Your bunk is filthy!” and hurling Tom’s pillows and sheets onto the floor.

It was 1980, and a friend of mine told me that you can get into the military at 17 without a high school diploma… pretty much just raw opportunity.

It hardly seems like the military was a good gig for Tom, but he found it “a tremendous lesson in self-discipline,” one which would begin to pay dividends down the road. His military career ultimately led him to Germany, where he was granted top-secret clearance to guard a nuclear weapons facility. 

But Tom found his way back to Seattle, at one point guarding Pike Place Market. Between brawls with troublemakers, he discovered the stock market. “I can pinpoint it to the date. It was October 19th, 1987. That was the famous stock market crash…I was so intrigued by what happened that I started reading about it, and that was the beginning of my involvement with stocks… Growing up at home, I never heard about stocks. I thought it was for rich people.”

Starting out, Tom had his fair share of blunders and painful trades. “The first time I lost money… I bought the stock on Friday, and [my broker] said, ‘Yeah this is a buy.’ On Monday it was down 25%, and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t need to pay a full-commission broker for bad advice. I can do bad on my own.’ So ever since, it’s always been discount stockbrokers. As Tom acquired experience in the stock market, his military discipline came in handy. “I would say self-discipline [is] the number positive. Don’t be so quick to pull the trigger. What I mean by the trigger is the click on the mouse. Don’t be so quick to click buy or sell on a thought. Have a little more thought about what goes into your decision.”

Tom’s portfolio seems to be chugging along well these days, and though he’s not a multi-millionaire yet, he claims that “if the technology that exists today existed back then, [he’d] be a multi-millionaire.” Because of that mentality, Tom spends his free time aggressively researching prospective investments and placing trades using his cutting-edge trading device, the Seeking Alpha application on his phone. Still, Tom doesn’t claim to be a fiscal prophet. “I’m just a worker, a security guard who’s trying to better himself, and there’s no better way to better yourself financially than the stock market. For the little guy, it’s the best game in town.” If it is a game, Tom sure takes it seriously. Always on the search for the next big win, Tom just bought shares in Panasonic, “an EV battery company no one is talking about!”