BOOK REVIEW: 'The Bigs': Answers to Questions College Graduates, Young Professionals May Never Have Thought Of

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

First off, what the heck does author Ben Carpenter mean by "The Bigs" -- as in the title of his self-help/memoir "The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live A Happy Life" (John Wiley & Sons, 288 pages, $25.00)?


BOOK REVIEW: 'The Bigs': Answers to Questions College Graduates, Young Professionals May Never Have Thought Of

That's an easy one: "The Bigs" refers to the Big Leagues of business and the phrase is derived from professional baseball where "the bigs" is slang for the big leagues. When you become responsible for yourself, and you are being paid to do a job, you are in the big leagues. The real world is tough, competitive, and much is expected.

There are lots of sports anecdotes in Carpenter's book -- he enjoyed competitive sports in the many high schools he attended as his family moved around the country -- and when he attended Bowdoin College in Maine. 

But if you're not a jock or jockette, don't worry: The advice he gives is far more specific than the high-flown oratory of college commencement speakers and it will help both college students, graduates and young people in their first jobs. If, instead of playing on the athletic teams,  you played an instrument in your high school band and/or orchestra -- as I did in the 1950s in a small town in Illinois -- you've already experienced the teamwork that Carpenter values so much.

The book is part memoir -- a very entertaining one -- and part advice to the job seeker. The anecdotes are as important as the specific advice Carpenter gives about informational and job interviews because they are carefully chosen to make a point.

Readers will encounter a colorful cast of real-life characters --  with identities disguised to protect the innocent and the guilty -- including Big Hank, The Brit, Hoops, Sweater Girl, Never, The Zombies, Mr. Nuts, The Cheese, Deep Throat, and The RAT. 

Carpenter encountered these people as he rose through the Wall Street financial ranks as a green-as-grass liberal arts graduate, to the owner of an out-of-control bar in Manhattan's upper East Side, to the CEO of a major international investment company.

So how did this successful financial executive, who survived multiple moves around the country as his dad lost job after job and when he endured multiple heart-related operations, come to write a book of advice to the job-lorn?

It all began with an innocent question from his daughter, Avery: "Is this okay to send?":  to convince Ben Carpenter that today’s young people are woefully unprepared for a harsh work world. 

Those five fateful words were the subject line of an email Avery sent him after getting her first “real” post-college job offer with a network daytime TV talk show (a stepping stone to her dream career). Until her horrified dad stopped her, Avery was about to ask her new boss for a later start date so she’d have more time to “tie up loose ends” (i.e., move out of her parents’ home and into her own apartment).

“This was when I realized that while Avery had received a top-notch academic education, she had no clue how the working world actually, well, worked,” says Carpenter.  “And it occurred to me that Avery probably wasn’t the only one. Through no fault of their own, most recent college graduates and young professionals are naïve about the realities of the real world.”

In "The Bigs", Carpenter seeks to fill that void. Using a combination of detailed, colorful anecdotes and tactical advice, he lays out a blueprint that employees of any age and level of experience (not just recent grads) can use to get—and do—a great job. Having done it all, from opening his own bar to working his way through the Wall Street ranks to becoming the CEO of a major international financial services company, Carpenter is the perfect coach.

“I learned a lot of lessons because I made a lot of mistakes, and watched others make even more,” he comments. “Conventional advice is easy to come by, but it’s the same advice everyone else is getting. You may not like hearing everything I have to say—in fact, some of it may fly in the face of what you wish were true—but it will help you get ahead in the real world.”

In my recent review of a book about how to write about everything -- appropriately titled "How to Write Anything" (link to my review: -- I wrote that I wished  the book had been available when I set out from college to the real world.  The same thought occurred to me as I read "The Bigs."  I probably would have made mistakes, as I did in real life, but they might have been fewer and far between with Carpenter's advice in hand. Then again, they might not!

Today, more than ever -- certainly more than in 1961 when I graduated from college --  "The Bigs" is a must-have book for college students, college graduates and people in jobs who want something different. To say the least, the job market is tight -- even for graduates of prestigious colleges like Bowdoin. 

Get a copy of "The Bigs" and enjoy the anecdotes and absorb the advice Carpenter gives. Pay particular attention to his admonitions of what not to say! Keeping the old pie-hole shut when you're about to go negative can protect you from the fate of people like L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Negativity about anything is a no-no in Carpenter's list of things to say!

Carpenter has been there, done that and has the scars to prove it. He gives full credit to his wife of three decades, Leigh. (Behind every great man is a woman who nudged or shoved him away from pitfalls). "The Bigs" is a must-read book and would make an ideal gift for students and young job holders.  

Ben Carpenter
Ben Carpenter

About the author

Ben Carpenter began his career as a commercial lending officer at Bankers Trust Company. Two years later he joined Bankers Trust’s Primary Dealer selling U.S. Treasury bonds. After a brief stop at Morgan Stanley, Ben joined Greenwich Capital, which, during his 22-year career there, became one of the most respected and profitable firms on Wall Street. At Greenwich Capital Ben was a salesman, trader, sales manager, Co-Chief Operating Officer, and Co-CEO.

Currently, Carpenter is the Vice Chairman of CRT Capital Group, a 300-person institutional broker-dealer located in Stamford, CT. He resides in Greenwich, CT with his wife, Leigh, and three daughters: Avery, Kendall and Cameron.

Additional free content including excerpts, videos and blogs at

Comments powered by Disqus