Q&A: Laurence Latimer, SVP and Managing Director, Trading & Client Connectivity - Americas, SunGard

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Would you describe your career path?

After graduating from Ohio State, I worked for the finance department at the Economic Development Corporation of the City of New York for a year before attending graduate school. I attended the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and studied economics and public policy.

After graduating, I worked at McKinsey & Company, focusing on media and financial services firms. I did some growth work but this was 2001 - 2003, when companies were retrenching after the dot-com crash. I spent a lot of time on operational improvements - how to run a business as leanly as possible.

I left McKinsey to join a small not-for-profit called Management Leadership for Tomorrow that had recently earned a significant amount money to scale their operations. As part of the senior management team, I used the skills learned at McKinsey to develop and scale the company's operations - helping it grow into a national non-profit that has made ground-breaking progress developing the next generation of leaders in major corporations, non-profit organizations and entrepreneurial ventures.

I moved on to a start up mobile telecom company joining several McKinsey alums. As part of the initial team, I had responsibility for everything from hiring and building international partnerships to marketing. My main role was in product strategy and international distribution. After a year I received a call from a colleague whose company was recently acquired by SunGard. His goals were to improve operations and develop a clear path to growth. I joined SunGard in April 2007 as vice president of project management, essentially serving as chief of staff to the president of a unit that delivers mission critical software and services to help the trading community deliver on their business goals.

How would you describe your role at SunGard?

I spent my first 18 months focusing on operational improvement throughout different parts of the business. Our goal was to build an organization that was nimble and positioned for growth in brokerage and trading.

Next, we set our sights on growth opportunities and after evaluating many, we launched several new lines of business, mostly in execution services. For example, I led the team that launched an alternative trading system (ATS) or dark pool, an important element of our growth platform and spearheaded international expansion in India. Essentially, I was able to continue doing start-up work within a much larger business.

Currently, I head a business the delivers multi-asset, multi-currency front-end software and services to the trading community throughout North and South America. As an example of what we do: If you have an E-Trade account and want to buy 100 shares of Google, you would enter the number of shares you wanted and press "Go". We develop and deliver the software and services that allow buy-side and sell-side traders to effectuate trades globally, and make better decisions with their orders.

There are three major elements to my business:

1) Our software helps traders and other professionals to enter, automate, manage, and clear orders.

2) Our connectivity helps them to reach other traders (buy-side and sell-side) and exchanges across the globe, such as the New York Stock Exchange, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, or Brazilian Futures Exchange

3) Our services help them achieve the best trades on those orders.

I've got offices in New York, Chicago, and Sao Paolo, Brazil.

What is a typical day like for you?

There really isn't a "typical" day for me, but there are themes that are consistent. It starts before 6 a.m. and I'm in usually in the office by 7:30 a.m. Keeping current on our clients and maintaining relationships is a priority, so if the opportunity arises, I'll try to have breakfast with a customer.

Early morning is spent handling any urgent issues and catching up on e-mail and news from overnight. I'll also take this time to set my priorities for the day. Additionally, this is when calls with Europe and Asia are scheduled. At 9:30 we'll hold a senior team meeting to discuss issues from the previous day and priorities for the current day. Mid-mornings typically involve customer calls to handle new or renewing business, or address particular issues.

If time permits, I may see a customer for lunch to discuss big picture issues and learn how we can better help them. The afternoon is dedicated to brainstorming about unique solutions for customers, or meeting with my team to discuss various action items. This is followed by more follow-up client calls, and there are always events and marketing-related activities that require focused attention. It's critical that the market has a good understanding of what's new and exciting at SunGard.

I try to be home by 7:30 or 8 p.m. to play with my kids before they go to sleep.

On any given day my priority is furthering customer relationships. For example, we recently had a customer considering Latin American expansion and wanted to know how SunGard could support them. I met with them over lunch to gain a deeper understanding of their business objectives and identify their success factors. That led to my team tailoring a solution that better supports the customer's future needs. In the end, if our customers are successful, we'll be successful.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students or aspiring information technology professionals?

There are three key points I find important:

1) Be very clear about what you want to do. Have conviction about the career and position you're seeking, even if you have to fake it!

2) At the same time, be flexible. It's not uncommon for someone to interview for a software development or service desk position, but not be a great fit. However, if they make a good impression, I'll find something for them within the organization. It's difficult to find really good talent.

3) It's also important to be knowledgeable about the company you're applying to. A hiring manager will expect you to know about their firm's business and demonstrate a basic understanding about what we do.

What skills are most important to be successful in information technology?

That depends on what you want to do. I tend to think in threes, so, here are three skills that I believe will make someone successful:

1) Good communication skills. If your goal is to rise into a leadership role, in any area - be it product management, sales or software development - good communications skills are essential. You've got to manage up, side-ways and down equally well. That means you must be able to speak in a compelling manner not only to your boss, but your boss' boss.

2) Do your current job extremely well. Focus on the things you're currently responsible for and execute those tasks well. Many people focus on the job they want next and lose focus on their current day-to-day job, which creates a bad impression with colleagues.

3) Build your network. Be inquisitive and ask your co-workers questions. Talk to people inside and outside of your business and try to build relationships. Ultimately, that network is going to be a critical driver of your career path.

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