CME Managing Director: Career Path
If you want to go the distance in financial services, Ross says it helps to have senior mentor on your side, to be true to yourself and to avoid setting up a new business when seven months pregnant. Here's what she says about the turns her career has taken:
There are two routes into a career in financial services. The first is via Wall Street, which can be very competitive - you either need to be recruited from a top university or a top MBA school. Or you can do it the way I did, starting at a regional firm and working your way up.
The regional route is slower and takes persistence, like moving from double-A baseball into the big league, but you get a good ride along the way. I started out selling municipal bonds for a regional firm and ended up running JP Morgan's futures and options business at the CME.
Like father, like daughter
My father inspired me to make my career in financial services. When I was an impressionable teenager, he changed career and it had a big effect on me. I was aged 16 when he went from a marketing and sales job to selling municipal bonds at TJ Raney in Little Rock, Arkansas. At night, he used to bring home the big Moody's books and client bond portfolios and I'd help him look up call features. I was fascinated.
He was a little hesitant about introducing me to the rascals he worked with, but my dad helped me land my first job in the industry. I was on summer vacation from university and his firm needed an assistant to work with a municipal bond underwriter. I went for an interview and told them I'd be the hardest worker for the minimum wage they'd ever had. I knew nothing about what I was doing at first, but soon caught on and loved it. I ended up staying until spring, working around my classes, and taking my NASD Series 7 exam.
At that time, there weren't many women working in bond sales in Arkansas. Although I'd passed the Series 7 and was licensed to sell securities, the firm made it clear that they had no intention of letting me do so. I decided to look elsewhere.
My next move was south. I knew someone at Dean Witter Reynolds and a good friend at high school had just moved to Jacksonville, Florida, so I called the person I knew at Dean Witter and asked if they had a Jacksonville office. They did, and I took a contract position there. Three months later, I moved to the Atlantic National Bank in Jacksonville as a bond salesperson.
I had a great boss at the Atlantic National Bank, and after a couple of years selling bonds, he allowed me to move into a trading role. It was back in the infancy of financial futures and I learned to trade the short end of the yield curve. It was fascinating, but after two years I figured it was time to move on and get some experience elsewhere.
From Atlantic National Bank, I moved to GNP Commodities, a small Chicago futures brokerage firm with huge accounts like Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. A year later, however, I decided to go into business with my husband.
New baby, new business
I was seven months pregnant, when my husband I decided to team up and start our own introducing broker firm. The idea was to cover the same Wall Street clients that I had at GNP but through our own firm. It was exciting, but stressful: I had my son, Parker, and took three months off before getting back to work.
There's no good or bad time to start a family if you're a woman in financial services. I firmly believe that you shouldn't worry about the impact on your career. My first was a surprise, and I think that if I had planned him to fit in with my career, I wouldn't have children today. When a child arrives you become more resourceful, hire nannies and get help from family members - you adapt!
Nevertheless, it wasn't long before we decided enough was enough. I found being in business with my spouse a little trying. You don't want to be discussing business at 10:00 pm. We wound down the business and I had a second child, after which I planned to retire.
Things rarely work out as planned. A year or so after our daughter was born, my husband hit a few bumps in his career and I decided to go back to work. I got a job with a small group not dissimilar to GNP, and moved after two years to CSFB who approached me to restart their CME business.
However, my big break came after that, when I took a job as the floor sales manager at the CME with JP Morgan Chase. It was a real springboard in terms of career development. JP Morgan was a great firm with enormous respect for the futures business in Chicago. Lots of Wall Street firms see their futures businesses as a distant stepchild, not to be taken entirely seriously. But at JP Morgan they loved it, the business was doing well and you could sense that success the moment you walked in the door.
I spent eight years at JP Morgan before moving on again to Cantor Fitzgerald in 2003, and from there to my current role at the CME in 2004.
Day to day
As managing director, interest rate products, my role is to expand the CME's interest rate futures and options business. Our flagship contract is the CME Eurodollar futures, the world's most actively traded interest rate futures contract.
Right now, we have a strong focus on encouraging the market to trade options electronically as we have with futures. I also work on new product development and business strategy - we spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve the functionality of CME Globex, our electronic trading platform, and make it easier to trade CME interest rate products.
I spend a lot of time traveling, which is great as I was quite stationery in my previous roles. Last week I went to Singapore and spoke at a conference with 1,200 industry participants. Next week I'm going to New York to speak at another conference and to meet our clients, which are the big Wall Street firms, hedge funds, and vendors. Most people already use our short-term interest rate product, which is the market leader, but I try and nudge them towards using a broader range of our products, and listen to their advice on how we could make improvements from a user standpoint.
On women in finance
Is it harder to be a woman in finance? I don't think so, and I've been in the industry for 26 years. Apart from right at the beginning of my career in Little Rock, I can't think of any time that my gender has been an issue. If anything, I'd say it helps - women are better at multi-tasking and managing relationships between several different variables at once, which is just what screen trading is about. This is a great business, and I'd love to see more women coming in.