On July 6, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) closed all but one of its futures pits, signaling the end of an era. In a National Public Radio (WBEZ) interview, Jody Michael, one of the first female traders on the CME, talks about her experiences on the floor and her thoughts on the closing of the trading pits.
How did you get started as a trader?
I happened to have a friend who was a Morningstar reporter; she thought I would love the trading floor. For months she badgered me, but I was just not interested. So one day, she invited me to lunch, except it wasn’t really lunch. She took me on the trading floor.
It was love at first sight. I got on the floor and I was captivated. I wanted to get in the pit with those guys. I just couldn’t believe how exciting it was — so much so that I went back to work, immediately walked into my boss’s office, and gave two weeks’ notice even though I had no job lined up and I didn’t know anyone on the floor. My boss was horrified; he asked, “Does your father know? This is not a good profession for a young woman.” In fact, when I interviewed for a trading position, the guy interviewing me spent the entire time trying to talk me out of it, telling me, “This really isn’t a good place for a woman to work.”
As one of the first female traders, how were you received by your male colleagues?
It was a tough place for men or women. Men were often bullies — they were intimidating and there were times when they would personalize it to your gender, saying things like, “You should be at home making babies.” But I never really felt like they were intentionally targeting women; they were just trying to get an edge psychologically — they were doing that with each other, too.
What I did experience personally — that I know men didn’t — were many, many incidences that were sexually inappropriate, that now would be lawsuits. I’ve had my breast grabbed, my butt grabbed, and I’ve been pinned against the wall. A very successful, married trader stalked me for a year and offered me various enticements to have an affair with him: a penthouse, a Porsche, vacations. I never considered pursuing or accepting any of it. Honestly, he was just an annoyance and I never thought to report him. That’s just how it was on the floor — it had its own subculture, rules and self-policing. If you wanted to play there, you just had to accept it for what it was.
I used to laugh and tell people that I grew up working in a boys’ locker room because the conversations I heard on the trading floor — about bachelor parties and Vegas trips, shared in explicit detail — were not conversations that most women would ever hear.
Traders often say they’re competitive. Would you say that’s true for you?
I’m extremely competitive, but I’m most competitive with myself. A perfect example: In my first month on the trading floor, I interviewed some of the brokers and traders who appeared to be the most successful and asked them two questions. First, “What’s the best company to work for?” The unanimous answer was Goldman Sachs, but they also said, “You can forget about getting hired — it’s so competitive. Everyone wants to work there.” Second, I asked, “If someone has no money and no connections, but is really good, how long should it take to get a badge?” Most people said three years.
It took me three months to get hired by Goldman Sachs and three years, to the exact day, to get my trading badge.
What was your badge nickname?
I had traded on it for a few months when one day, a floor official came up and said that I couldn’t have that badge anymore. Apparently, the day before, a person was shouting my badge nickname to get my attention and someone thought there was actually a fire in the building. It turns out that there was a city ordinance that prohibited shouting “fire” unless there really was a fire. So my second badge was “SOAR,” in honor of Michael Jordan, one of my favorite athletes.
Why did you leave trading?
I loved the floor, the game and the challenge, but moving money around wasn’t meaningful to me, especially after I had the opportunity to work in leadership positions where I was managing others on the trading floor. So, after 15 years on the CME, I went down to the pit and announced to the guys, “I’m leaving the trading floor. I’m going to University of Chicago to become a shrink — that’s my new profession.” Of course they congratulated me — and then they started to take bets, right in front of me, on how long it would be before I came back to the trading floor. They thought it was insane to leave — to give up the prestige and the money, and to throw away 15 years of experience. I started laughing and said, “You guys are dinosaurs. You’re going to become extinct and you’re going to come see me to help you figure out how to get out of here.” Boy, was that prophetic.
What will be lost with the closing of the trading pits?
Nowhere else in the world can you make a million- or a billion-dollar deal with simply a nod, gesture or signal. Anywhere else, it would take a team of lawyers and months or years to transact that kind of deal. There was something beautiful in the immense power and simplicity of those transactions. That will be lost forever.