Q&A: Samuel H. Gaer, CIO, New York Mercantile Exchange

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A Q&A with Samuel H. Gaer, chief information officer of the New York Mercantile Exchange: "Know your business, know your customer, and know your technology. Technology for the sake of technology just doesn't work."

Samuel H. Gaer is the chief information officer of the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). Previously, he'd founded several software development companies, including TradinGear, which developed the TradinGear Financial Instrument Network eXchange (TGFINX) - the basis for the NYMEX ClearPort trading platform.

How did you get started?

Believe it or not, I started as a clerk on a trading floor when I was 15. I worked there every summer until I graduated from the Wharton School of Business in 1988, and from there I got very involved in the business. When I graduated, I immediately went down the floor and started trading. For a number of years, I worked for a trading company on the Commodities Exchange (COMEX).

How did you go from trader to CIO?

When I was 12, I had an Apple II as my first computer and I was very intrigued by it. I've always used technology, and am fascinated with the co-relation of technology and trading.

In 1998, I left the trading floor to start a trading software development company. I founded TradinGear, building brokerage systems, electronic trading platforms for hedge funds, broker-dealers and the exchange. We had very high profile clients, and in late 2002, we licensed the system to NYMEX. They made an offer shortly after for certain assets of the company, and offered me the CIO position.

What's a typical day for you?

I get in at 7:30 or 8 a.m. and generally use the time in the morning for administrative work. I've been checking my emails all night long anyway, because now everyone has a BlackBerry. The rest of the day is meeting time. We meet for various tech and trading issues. I have a meeting with the chairman, followed by an executive committee meeting and technology team meetings.

We've moved from rebuilding the place and putting out fires, to growth and maturity of the company. So now I'm more involved with managing and mapping out the future.

The most challenging aspect of my job is managing the tech team while managing business expectations. Fortunately, because of my background, I am able to really relate very well between the business of trading and the technology of trading.

Any tips for the aspiring CIO?

A great resource for me is CIO magazine. It's a really good peer resource. I was a very green CIO coming in: I had been the chief executive in smaller companies and wasn't exposed to anything of this scale prior. It's useful to know what your peers are doing.

Reaching out to CIOs in your industry is also helpful, even if they are competitors. Your exchanges don't have to be about strategy - you can discuss general CIO matters.

The role of CIO has really changed. In the past, a CIO had to be a computer developer. I was at the forefront of a wave of CIOs who have a business background first and foremost (I was an economics and business major). Now it's business first, technology second. Know your business, know your customer, and know your technology. Technology for the sake of technology just doesn't work. You've to define what your business is and what your problems are.

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