Hot off the Press: Tom Dittmer Memoir!

Talkin’ Big—How an Iowa Farm Boy Beat the Odds to Found and Lead One of the World’s Largest Brokerage Firms, coming out this month from Skyhorse Publishing. Just in time for the holidays!

You are always looking for something fun to read. And  a book called Talkin’ Big sounds like a hoot just from the title, right? I agree! Well, dear reader, this would be His Grace’s memoir.

Talkin’ Big—How an Iowa Farm Boy Beat the Odds to Found and Lead One of the World’s Largest Brokerage Firms, coming out this month from Skyhorse Publishing.

Though I have not written a blog post since the Hoover administration, you may recall that I refer to my darlin’ husband as His Grace, and he has been a good sport about my teasing him in this space, like the time we were in France and he said “MAGNIFICO!” because everybody knows that is French for where is the men’s room.

He has done some other amazing things, too, such as:

Raised by a single mother, young Tom Dittmer (aka His Grace) had barely the grades to graduate high school, let alone overcome poverty, illness, dyslexia, and a crippling stutter. 

With his grandpa, the pipsqueak entrepreneur and budding cowboy.

And yet he managed to graduate college (his mother cried for a week); serve in an elite military unit; be appointed a White House Social Aide; meet and marry a beautiful Texan (that would be Frances I; I am Frances II), and make a million dollars by the time he was 30. Srsly.

The Ed Sullivan Show was a big deal back then. That is Tom in the middle, looking like a handsome extra on “Frozen”. For those of you born in the 21st century, ask your mama about Ed Sullivan. He was major.

The financial futures business in 1970s Chicago was the Wild West, and Tom was a gunslinger with the best (and worst) of them.

In a calm moment, the trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, ca. 1965. Each “pit” represented a different commodity. Prices were recorded on chalkboards above, surrounding the perimeter. People would do goofy stuff like walk in with a wet umbrella (with not a drop of rain outside), and the place would go crazy because people would think it was raining, which meant the crops would be plentiful, and the prices would go down, and they’d trade accordingly. Things got very lively and sometimes downright dangerous. Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images

In a place and time like no other, Tom was smack in the middle of it, pushing, shoving, and persevering. Oh, and he co-founded a huge brokerage firm. I almost forgot to say that. It doesn’t exist today, and that is really sad. It hasn’t all been roses, trust me. 

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, occasionally off-color but always colorful, Tom tells his story in a chain of events that reads like a movie script, with characters including celebrities, sovereigns, fugitives, financiers, Nobel laureates, and no-good scoundrels.

The London company of Tom’s firm traded sugar for Cuba. Tom was not a fan of Castro’s, but they became cordial acquaintances. Cuba gave Refco a ton of business. Be sure to read the part about coming back into the US with all those cigars 😮 !

Talkin’ Big is about living large, winning big, losing badly, and staying true to who you are. Through it all, he’s had the grace and chutzpah to enjoy the whole ride, and you can’t help but enjoy it, too.

I mean the pictures alone…

Down on the farm: Tom’s grandfather, uncle, and a highly aromatic coon dog named Ring, with his unfortunate quarry.

The title is Talkin’ Big because that is what he likes to do. Come on, he’ll say, let’s go out on the porch and smoke cigars and talk big. But in a cute way, not a stuck-up-I’m-a-big-deal way. Because otherwise I wouldn’t have gone on the second date.

I love a man who can rock a Zorro costume with an almost straight face.

Once a cowboy always a cowboy. Tom the Californio riding in the Santa Barbara Fiesta parade a few years ago. This photo isn’t in the book, but I love it.

Men are hard to buy presents for unless they have, like, a Barbie collection or something, so Talkin’ Big is a good gift for them. Just sayin’. Get yours by clicking here,* and thank you. A Zorro costume is always good, too. Heck, get both.

Oh, and you’ll be doing good: All the profits from Talkin’ Big go to this great school on the West Side of Chicago called Providence St. Mel, which we need more of in this world.

Tom today, at home on our ranch in Los Olivos, Rancho la Zaca. Photo by Everett Lawley

Happy Trails and keep Talkin’ Big,


*The links above are to, and you can get a signed copy via there, or order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Books, et al.



    1. That’s right honey, only in America, we agree and mean it in the best way. And you were there. Thank you again for your wonderful contribution. xo FMSD

  1. I am waiting for a signed copy from my dear cousin, aka his grace, love the picture of dad and grandpa. We look forward to meeting you, love, Sylvia & Duane

  2. Tom was the Great One. Whenever I was trying to position myself for a big move in a market, Tom would say Fowler if you want to be on that horse when he is running, you have to ride him when he is bucking. Just sit low in the saddle and lean into the wind. Tom, lets Talk Big and do it again !

    1. Thank you for writing Howard. I wish this line had been in the book – it is a classic! Look forward to meeting you, I hope, in Chicago.
      Frances 2

  3. I had the opportunity to read Talking Big this weekend in the presence of His Grace. I have to say it nicely pulled together snippets of what I did know and added much to what I did not.

  4. Frances (II)
    I can’t wait for it. I only wish I had written it. Of course… I could add a chapter of two from his time in “The Old Guard”, but nobody would believe it.
    All the best to both of you,

  5. Frances, THD taught me about “Thinkin’ Big” with full expectations of a positive conclusion. That was his greatest gift to me, and I can not wait for my copy. Best to you both, Sandy Stuart

  6. How intriguing!!! I’m gonna have to check it out! “His Grace” is a wonderful man with great Spirit! He’s always been so kind and funny to me, just a little ole’ St. Mark’s community person! Best wishes for a successful book! Always love your writing, Frances Schultz!

    1. Thank you so much Alicia, so sweet of you to write! Do let me set the record straight that I did not write it! I worked on it a lot – but did not write it – so I cannot take credit for that. Love, Frances

  7. What a loving gesture to write a book about Tom it is well over due ,I learned so much from him and from working at Refco it changed my life .Cant wait to read it Michael Recine

    1. Thank you so much Michael. It is so kind of you to write. If you are in Chicago on Dec 11 please let me know and we would love to have you to the book party there. Warmly, Frances

  8. I was fortunate enough to have worked for Refco from the time they took all employees to Las Vegas, made an historic killing in the Live Cattle market, and trained schools of Japanese traders on how to trade futures. I sat next to Tom in the “War Room” for 6 months and I can assure you, someone had to write a book like this to acknowledge Tom and what he accomplished!

  9. Just finished Tom’s book. It was recommended to me by Larry Williams. I loved it. A really easy read with lots of history. I love reading biographies and memoirs as I want to learn from other people’s experiences. I found that the underlying reason for his success was his network.

    1. Thank you Josh, so glad you liked it and that you found inspiration as well as practical advice. Seems life and business alike are all about relationships, right?

  10. This book was a great read! I was surprised to see my dad, Corky Kress, mentioned in the book. He always had fun and exciting stories to tell about Tom. I wish he was still around to be able to read this book!

  11. Great read! I was surprised to see my dad, Corky Kress, mentioned in the book. Corky always had fond and great memories to tell about his good friend Tom. All the best to you both!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Bryan, and thank you for writing. Tom has speaks often and fondly of your dad, and Im sorry we never got to meet. Please look us up if you are ever in the neighborhood. Warmly, Frances

  12. My memories of Refco and Tom: morning sales meetings in the “war room” with traders brave enough to give their opinions with Tom in the room; Tom always playing devil’s advocate; always asking the tough questions. And when the meeting was breaking up you might hear him say, “let the big dog eat” and everyone knew who the Big Dog was. The greatest book every written about stock trading was ”Reminiscences of a Stock Operator.” It has been lonely on my book shelf since first published in 1929, but it now has company. “Talkin’ Big” is the story of the greatest commodity trader ever: Tom Dittmer.
    Love Ya Tom, Carmen.

  13. Enjoyed the stories. I knew Tom at The University of Iowa in the early sixties. Even to this 18 year old kid it was apparent that Tom was an achiever and the words “can’t “ and “quit” were not in his vocabulary. Congratulations on a good read.

    1. You’ve got that right Mike. Thanks so so much for taking the time to write. Tom really appreciated hearing from you, and so do I. Blessings, Frances

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *