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MarketsWiki Education Series in Chicago, Day Two

If you want to know where technology is going and how to navigate your way through, Thursday’s MarketsWiki Education event was the place to be.

Drew Shields, chief technology officer at Trading Technologies, started the second day of MarketsWiki Education World of Opportunity series by challenging another packed house of interns to resist falling in line with the status quo.  Shields knows firsthand how far hunger and initiative can get you in this industry. He’s chief technology officer at a premier technology firm and never took a course in engineering or capital markets in his life. But employers saw his hunger and that is what has propelled him his whole career.

Trading Technologies CTO Drew Shields

Drive and ambition are also things that an individual in their nascent professional life can control.  At some juncture, there will always be someone smarter than you, but you can run circles around them if you demonstrate an ability to challenge the status quo, take initiative and speak your mind “gracefully.” Equally important to success is resisting entitlement. Entitlement in the workplace is toxic and can undermine the drive and ambition that is essential to a career that is much more than average.

Walt Lukken, FIA – New Normal; Five Tips

In a time of great uncertainty, risk management – which is what the industry is all about – is crucial. Walt Lukken, president of the Futures Industry Association, said we are living in what a Chinese curse calls “interesting times”, what with the Brexit decision, an upcoming U.S. presidential election in which both candidates are disliked by nearly two-thirds of the populace, and a continuing war against terrorism. In the futures industry, volumes are underperforming and regulatory costs are forcing firms to make tough decisions. Nevertheless, Lukken said he is very optimistic about the industry, because of the power of markets and of innovation. “The demand for risk management is not going to disappear,” he said.

Lukken asked, “What do I have in common with Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and Alec Baldwin?” He answered, “Nothing – except that we all interned on Capitol Hill our first year out of school.”  He said an internship is a very powerful way to find out what you don’t want to be when you grow up. “So don’t feel bad if you don’t like your first job. That’s part of the process.”

He outlined five suggestions for young people to improve their career paths: 1. Networking – don’t be shy about using your family and friends as a career asset; 2. Learn to write and communicate simply and concisely; 3. Don’t be above doing the dirty work (apparently menial tasks) – diligence will earn you respect; 4. Get a good education, including the STEM fields; and 5. Be nice to others. There will be times you will need their help. And write thank-you notes.

Rumi Morales – The Future of Fintech

Rumi Morales, executive director of CME Ventures, batted in the three-hole, providing a glance inside the CME’s subsidiary that invests in startups. CME Ventures has three primary areas of focus: machine learning, the blockchain space and advanced security. Morales looks at the most successful startups as serving basic human needs — Uber provides transit, GrubHub food, Airbnb shelter, etc. So, she searches for companies that, at their very core, seek to address another simple human need. From the CME’s perspective, it gets its foot in the door at cutting-edge firms before evaluations balloon. Equally important: they have early access to these fresh ideas before competition has the opportunity.  

Jeff Levoff, a partner at the proprietary trading firm DRW, quoted Groucho Marx, who said, “When a black cat crosses your path, it means the animal is going somewhere.”  In other words, there is no such thing as luck. That is true in the trading field, which is “not a get rich quick scheme. It is hard work,” he said.

        DRW Partner Jeff Levoff

He used an experiment with two envelopes, one of which he said contained five dollar bills. He asked the audience what they would bid on the envelopes. When the bidding went over $2.50, Levoff said that didn’t make sense.

“To pay more than $2.50 is negative expected value,” he said. “If I only had $5 in one of the envelopes, that would be a terrible bid. If you pay more than what you think something is worth, that’s gambling.”  If you learn how to value things properly, you can do well in trading, but you have to understand both price and the risk associated.

He added that there are many different avenues in the financial industry, and that young people should not be afraid to walk away from a job they dislike to pursue something they love doing.

Karen Wuertz, SVP of strategic planning and communications at the NFA, encouraged young people to give the regulatory side of the industry a harder look. The need for regulatory bodies with integrity will not be going away. And seeking out the frauds and bad apples that give the industry a bad rap is an honorable cause. It was a reminder that while the programming and engineering fields continue to be the in-demand areas of expertise required by industry participants, there are always more facets and backgrounds that the derivatives markets need than just STEM fields.

Karen Wuertz, NFA – “Rooting out the Bad Apples”

One of the few tips of the day that did not encourage technological interaction came from Wuertz. Our mobile devices, while amazing tools, prevent so much person-to-person interaction in our day-to-day lives. From time to time, take the earbuds out, close your Facebook app, and actually say hello to someone in the elevator. Leveraging your network is critical to expanding one’s horizons, why not take every opportunity to meet people?  

Maureen Downs, president of the FCM Rosenthal Collins Group (RCG), talked about mentoring.

Maureen Downs on Mentoring

She said young people often have a misconception of what a mentor should be. Some want the mentor to be like a mom whose shoulder they can cry on, or a navigator who maps out their career for them, or a fairy godmother who waves a magic wand and grants them a corner office with a big salary and a private trainer. But Downs said what makes a mentor great is being a great leader, and not necessarily a CEO or president. A good mentor will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, and will be brutally honest when you are not thinking straight or screw up.

Mentoring was not really a thing in Downs’ youth, so she had to mentor herself. When you fail, she said, it’s okay to feel self pity and to cry or pound the wall – just not in the office, and only until the sun comes up the next morning. With nasty people, it’s important to remember that they are generally miserable themselves and want to take their unhappiness and make it your unhappiness. Learn to put up a shield and not let them get to you, she said.

And perhaps most important, never underestimate the value of family.

“My family is the rock and foundation for every success I have had in business,” Downs said. “Mentors come and go, but your family is always there.”

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Rudolph is managing editor of John Lothian News (JLN).