Rob is the CEO of IPC Systems, the leading voice trading company famous for their dealer turrets, which you can find on every trading floor. Previously, Rob was the President of Global Trading at FIS, the world’s largest Fintech and a Fortune 500 company. Before that, Rob was COO of several different companies. Rob recently won the CEO of the Year award.
We speak about the past, present, and future of trading, especially voice trading. We dive into the effects of Covid19 on the trading world, how trading evolved in a working from home environment and how technology enabled this shift. Bob shares his views on leadership, how to become CEO of the Year and how to lead through transformational times. And of course, with such a high profile guest, you get some career advice.
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[00:00:04] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Wall Street Lab Podcast, where we interviewed top financial professionals and deconstruct their practices to give you an insider look into the world of finance.[INTRO]
[00:00:23] AVH: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Wall Street Lab podcast. Today, we have for you Robert Santella. Bob is the CEO of IPC Systems, deep leading voice trading company famous for the their dealer turrets, which you can find on every trading floor. Previously, Bob was the president of Global Trading at IFS. The world’s largest fintech and a Fortune 500 company. Before that, Bob was COO of several different asset management companies. Bob also recently won the CEO of the year award. We speak about the past, present and future of trading, especially voice trading. We dive into the effects of COVID on the trading world. How trading evolved in a working from home environment and how technology enabled this shift?
Bob shares with us his views on leadership. How to become CEO of the year and how to lead for transformation times? And of course, with such a high profile guest, I ask for some career advice. So if you like this episode, please leave us a 5-star review on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcat from.
And now without further ado, our interview with Bob Santella.[INTERVIEW]
[00:01:45] AVH: Hello, Bob. It’s a great pleasure to have you on the show. How are you today?
[00:01:51] RS: I’m never great, Andreas. Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
[00:01:54] AVH: I’m super excited. Now, I know you from hearsay, because you’ve been the president of a team that I’ve worked at before, at FIS. Can you please give our audience a background on yourself and maybe introduce us off to our audience that doesn’t know you.
[00:02:14] RS: Yeah. I’m happy to do that. You are correct, Andreas. We were former colleagues at my previous employer, FIS. It was good to actually to somebody that someone I’m familiar with. I’ve spent over 30 years in the capital market and trading space. It sounds like a long time now, but it’s been over three decades. Much of that time was spent either on the buy side, managing a hedge fund, working with fintech companies. As we mentioned most previously, working at a very large fintech company called FIS, where I headed up their trading and network businesses globally.
I ended up leaving FIS a little over two years ago to join IPC. For me, it was a really great career move. And one of things that I really liked about IPC among other things is that not as large as my previous employers, but we’re still a global firm and we are in the largest player and the largest company when it comes to voice trading specialization. With that, I mean, we support voice financial solutions for the trading industry and we support global networking for a sell side, buy side and in trading industry as well. We’re a firm of over a thousand people in virtually every region of the world. And we provide solutions to large global firms, medium-sized firms, regional and small firms as well. We’ve been around for almost 50 years. So although I’ve only been here for two of those years, IPC has a very well-established reputation and it had a fairly long history in the trading space.
[00:03:46] AVH: You have come across a very interesting topic, and I think before we start to get IPC a bit better understood, because everybody that listens to the podcast I bet knows your products, but very few will likely know the company. So can you define a couple of terms before we dive deeper? And the terms are dealer bots or trading turrets.
[00:04:13] RS: Yeah. So, like many fintech companies that you and your audience probably know, we’re often recognized by our product rather than the name of the company. That’s an uncommon thing in the marketplace. IPC is very well-known for the trading turrets. What a turret basically is, it’s a specialized device that people on trading desk use for voice communications. It’s simply a very large, sophisticated, complex and more expense version of a telephone that provides a trader and trading support people to ability and capabilities of talking to multiple counterparties at onetime, connecting directly to counterparties and customers with a push of a button and giving them to ability to record the voice, which needs to be archived for regulatory reasons. There are a whole bunch of other sophisticated things that’s really required in a trading space where the quality of voice is really important. It’s not just voice that’s important, but the quality of voice is important, the ability to multitask.
A trading turret, again, think of it being a large sophisticated device. And for those you and your audience that have been on a trading floor, you probably notice these very large often black devices that look like supercharged and futuristic trading telephones. That’s really what a turret is. No more than that.
[00:05:31] AVH: Yeah. I remember a time I’m on a trading floor at Deutsche and then you hear the hoot and hollers. So basically, when you just scream at people that are not even aware that you are called and you have no way of avoiding those calls. This has been quite fun with having a telephone that is bigger than your keyboard.
[00:05:50] RS: Yes. Exactly. And you mentioned the word hoot and holler. It’s actually what it sounds like. It’s basically a device that gives trading desk [inaudible 00:05:58] support the trading desk the ability to use an intercom type functionality of basically hollering or really talking into an intercom and getting somebody’s attention immediately. [inaudible 00:06:08] internal type function between trading support and trading desk and trading desk to trading desk type functionality. Coming to that zone right now with remote trading as well as far as giving some of our clients the ability, I’m sure we’re going to do later, about the impact of trading remotely and how it’s kind of evolved. But hoot and holler is again a very simple looking device, but a very powerful device. IPS has something called a pulse. Our version of a hoot and holler or intercom is called a pulse device, and something that as a really good companion to the trading turret.
[00:06:39] AVH: Perfect. Now that we’ve given some definitions of what might come up and have placed IPC in a real life context. You’ve spent a lot of years in the fintech space, and especially in the world of trading. Can you give us a slight resume of technology in trading? Because I think you’ve come along way. You’ve actually participated in a lot of those transformational digitalizations and the changes. Can you tell us how the whole space developed?
[00:07:15] RS: Sure. Obviously, it’s a very broad question, but it’s an important question because as most people know, in the trading space or any part of financial industry, technology is a critical component of how we run our businesses. As a matter of fact, you can’t really run a trading or an investment business these days without having in many case as leading edge technology.
Now, a common theme that we see in fintech and how it’s evolved over many years is that clients really look for integrated solutions. By that I mean if you go high-level, they’re looking for the ability to connect and have integrated front office solutions, to mid-office solutions, to back office solutions. Many times they rely either on a single vendor to provide those type of solutions, or they want the vendors to have the ability to be able to integrate into other company solutions. IPC is no different. We provide voice communication solutions where our clients want the ability to integrate other applications and other solutions into our platforms. We have a very flexible and very popular platform called Bluewave, which allows API integration into our platform for a host of emerging technologies, complementary to technologies.
But you see when you back to really the history of fintech really in the last 20 or 25 years, you saw a kind of very basic rudimentary type solutions, whether you order a management system or risking compliance type solutions and then backend processing type. We’re seeing now especially the last 5 years or so, there’s a much bigger investment, and I would say value added technologies. Technologies that add artificial intelligence, or AI type capabilities.
In our space, we see AI. We use something called natural language processing, or NLP [inaudible 00:09:03] invoice and transcribe into text and using that text for other thing. I think when you look at the foundation that was built over the last several decades, that foundation is much stronger for the basic building blocks when it comes to fintech. Now, many firms including IPC were building on that foundation for really newer, more innovative, more value-added solutions that really allow big banks and brokers the ability to better run their businesses. Hopefully increase profitability and also make them more efficient [inaudible 00:09:34] to regulatory and compliance requirements.
[00:09:38] AVH: That totally makes sense. I see this. I work in a startup. So I see the small tech fintech part of it. And before we’ve started, we actually started 15 minutes late because we had a lot of connection issues. I tried to call you in the phone with Skype and then now using another platform. It changes a lot how we operated since corona. And you talked about this, right? That we are mostly now accommodated to working from home in times of corona, but there’s still a lot of things that are open and that they are the white spots on the map of how things go. How do you think in the trading world? Did corona affect the way people work?
[00:10:25] RS: It really had a very significant impact, Andreas. I would say it had [inaudible 00:10:29] impact I think on virtually every business and every industry in society and probably every part of the world and every country. Trading was one that was particularly impacted, because, historically, traders and trading industry is not one that allowed remote working or working at home primarily for regulatory and compliance reasons. There is a supervisory element and a regulatory regime that needs to be adhered to when you’re trading.
The other part is that specially large banks and brokers where they use really complex sophisticated technologies often with a lot of hardware support and internal support. It didn’t really lend itself to having people work at home or having traders work remotely. What we saw, the pandemic virtually started it and earnest back in early to mid-March. A lot of banks and brokers and buy-side firms that employed traders had to move very quickly and start moving people and moving traders to work remotely. It wasn’t something they were accustomed to. They had virtually 24-hour days in organizations to figure out how to handle this. If you remember at the time, especially back in early to mid-March, things were changing by the way in society. I think plans were changing and firms were reacting. They weren’t really planning as much. They just had to react very urgently to a crisis that was developing more and more each day.
What that meant when it came to the trading world was that banks and brokers relied very heavily on firms like IPC and others to move traders quickly to a remote location, often at home. And in the case of IPC, we actually provided what we call a software version of our turret or a soft client as we call it. In our case, it goes under the name of Omni. And we actually sold over 12,000 or 13,000 Omni licenses in a matter of weeks just to give traders the ability to use a physical turret on their software-driven device, whether it’d be tablet, or a laptop and so forth. We actually moved network lines and moved other connectivity lines, thousands of them to remote locations to allow people to work at home. I would say that, literally, in a matter of days in many cases, we were able to move thousands of traders of certain banks to a work-from-home environment with really very minimal disruption to trading.
And again for those that can think back three months or so ago and look at the market at that time, we’re going through a really unique period of volatility. The equity markets are moving drastically up and down. Mostly down, but also up in an unprecedented fashion. Other commodity markets and future markets were moving very similar fashion. We had two things going on. We had the trading industry having to react to different market dynamics that they were used to for a very long time. Oh, by the way, we have to allow now traders to work at home and training support people to work at home or remotely. This is not something we were prepared for.
In light of those challenges, the industry really came through I think with flying collars. Again, there was virtually no disruption with trading operations or the market anywhere in the world during that time, which is really important to have the stabilizing impact to the markets. Secondly, the technology showed a very favorable outcome for the firms, and technology is being deployed, including voice communications and a networking capabilities by IPC and others was there 100% of the time as far as uptime. Something I think that in sort of a counter intuitive way has now accelerated innovation in our space and where firms are reacting a couple of months ago. Now they can actually settle down and they can start being proactive and start planning for the next generation of remote solutions, better technology and more flexible type platforms.
[00:14:15] AVH: How do you think the crisis and the change of digitalization or to remote working spaces will affect how traders work in the long run or over the next 5 to 10 years?
[00:14:28] RS: As we know in the trading space, people often say – There’s a truth in this, Andreas. That people tend to have short memories. And we’ve been through other crises in the past, notably 2008. We saw a financial market crisis. We had other issues like 9/11 crisis, 2001 and some other things that happened around the world over the last 25 years. The markets kind of adjusted and they moved forward. I do think this time there are some differences though. I think that – And you sort of touched on this. I think the trading industry in particular will now go to a different paradigm as far as remote working at home. I think there’s going to be a subset of virtually every trading firm of every bank and every broker that it’s going to have some part of their employee base being a semi-permanent or permanent work from home environment.
One, I think they’ve learned they can do, which is good. And they learned they can do it pretty effectively. Secondly, the technology is actually now accelerating to support a work from home environment in a way that does it here to compliant requirements and provides a high-quality type support that traders need. I think it offers a hybrid type solution. I don’t think we’re going to see any decent-sized firm, any mid-sized or large bank or broker have their entire workforce be at home. I think that’s not going to happen.
I think we will see a combination of very essential and very necessary and certain type employees that will be in an office environment. I think there’ll be some employees that don’t need to be in an office and they might be at home in a more permanent type structure. And then there’ll be some that will be more flexible that will probably startle between being in an office and being at a remote location or at home or both. I think that’s where a lot of firms are planning for these days.
More and more especially in the last four weeks or so, we’ve had very detailed discussions with many of our larger clients that they’re now actually asking for increased functionality, increased capabilities and really thinking outside the box for creative solutions to support remote at home. What that tells us is that the big banks and brokers now are making the investments for some sort of a significant presence to work from home.
And I think what that means for trading secondarily is that will the quality of trading suffer? Will the profitability of trading suffer? I think that banks and brokers will tell us no. If they thought that, it wouldn’t be making these investments. That’s why I think there’ll be a lot of scrutiny, a lot of visibility on the quality of trading and the technology that supports is. I think as long as the technology and trading continuous to perform well, we’ll continue to see this momentum towards, again, a larger number of people working from home.
[00:17:04] AVH: I imagine it’s hard. If I remember my times at the trading floor, you have the huge IPC dealer board, your Bloomberg keyboard. You have 8 up to 12 screens. It’s going to be difficult infrastructure to set from home and especially for – With trading being now more and more high-frequency. It might impact it in terms of speed, because you also have to make sure that the traders have a working internet connection that is absolutely high-speed, that is absolutely top. Had you have any summary from what you see so far on how those things impact the ability of traders to perform in a fast-moving market?
[00:17:49] RS: Yeah, it’s a great point, Andreas. I think what that really leads to is that not every trader, not every employee is going to be able to work at home exactly for those types of reasons you just raised in your question. Even during the height of the pandemic and when the crisis was really in a peak, most big banks and brokers still had employees going to the office every day. Virtually, every bank had still had traders going to an office primarily for the reasons that you raised. When a situation where you’re dealing with electronic trading and you’re dealing where latency is super important to the trading experience. And latency again is the speed at which you go to the market, and generally the lower speed, or the lower the latency, which is the comparison of speed, it really leads into a better electronic trading.
The real estate on a desk – And by real estate, again, it expands on what you said, which is some traders need to have multiple monitors, sometimes 6 or 8 monitors and multiple keyboards. Those types of situations existed during the pandemic and still exist today. They’re not going away. I think where there’s more scrutiny or investment being made is in situations where you have traders working from home and they still need acceptable latency, an acceptable quality, an acceptable levels of technology recognizing that it might not be quite the same as in an office.
So what we’re seeing is that, one, voice trading really became much more important, and there’s a greater emphasis on voice trading during a pandemic. Although electronification of trading is still a growing trend, voice trading is not going away. A matter of fact, I would say during the pandemic and even now, the ability for people working from home to get somebody else on a phone and use a voice type device, whether it’d a soft client, or cloud-based technology, or a turret was really an important part of how they trade it. It also kind of mitigated some of the risk you get with electronification. But there is going to be an investment, and we’re seeing it already. We’re seeing companies making investment in upgrade in their VPN type capabilities into their own networks. For really essential traders that need to work at home, they’re already making investments and upgrading to business quality type internet connections. We even seen point-to-point type connections in some cases. Some very high-level traders or senior executives where we provide point-to-point connectivity. We’re seeing some of those lines actually being installed for residences or remote.
I think we’re seeing more essential works, workers that need to have the tools to drive profitability and maintain the trading experience that firms are willing to invest whatever they need to to ensure those traders actually making to continue to trade in a matter that they’re accustomed to whether they’re in an office or not. In case where they don’t need that sort of technology investment or they don’t need I would call the A+ tool. Well, they can live with a B+ tool. Then those type of support people will get an acceptable level of technology.
[00:20:41] AVH: What is some technology that you as IPC currently look into a lot as you invest to support those traders?
[00:20:53] RS: Yeah. So a couple of things we’re doing here. I think it’s really much different than what we’re doing event two years ago, Andreas. First of all, as I mentioned earlier in our conversation, we had a soft client called Omni that really was not widely used. It’s a 10-year-old product, but it really wasn’t something that was used primarily because traders had not been working at home. And think of a soft client being something that you could just download to your laptop or your device, your tablet and use it just like a physical turret, physical phone device. It’s a really a companion product[inaudible 00:21:25]
on premises solution called Unity. If you’re a Unity client, you can use it as a soft client.
What we see now, and we’re already working on future versions of Omni, is that the soft client, the flexible software-based solution is now going to be something that’s really important to how people trade from home and it’s something we’re now making an increasing investment in including, like I said, next generation type versions of the soft clients.
Second thing we’re seeing a huge uptick in that’s really impacts IPC quite a bit is we announced over a year ago a partnership with a firm called Cloud 9 Technologies. Cloud 9 is one of these firms that’s been around for 5 or 6 years that we review as being a smaller fintech, but very creative, very innovative with a very experienced team that specializes strictly in cloud-based voice communication. Download a soft client to your laptop or device, you use it over public cloud. You use it over our internal network. It’s a very cost-effective, workable, flexible solution.
We have a partnership with Cloud 9 where we kind of marry and integrate our other solutions, our on-prem solutions and others with the Cloud 9 cloud-based solutions. Cloud 9 virtually doubled their business over the last 3 months as far as number of users. A lot of that was driven by our joint partnership using our network capabilities to connect their cloud base and other things we’ve done. So we’re seeing now again an extreme acceleration of investment and kind of penetration with a cloud-based solution.
Third thing we’re seeing, which is really exciting for our future and also for the industry. And you mentioned this early in our conversation about smaller firms and kind of newer technology firms. Virtually, every part of the fintech industry has what we call disruptive technologies. Disruptive technologies mean just that. They tend to disrupt in a good way by providing a different way to do things and normally a newer, cheaper, not just a better mass trap, but a different mouse trap in many ways.
We’re seeing that in our space where we’re seeing things like AI, artificial intelligence and natural language processing. And in other emerging technologies that integrate very well into our platform and it basically provides banks and brokers now the capability to use our voice data. All the data that IPC collects every day, which is terabytes of information. It uses information the information to make [inaudible 00:23:49] a better compliance experience, a more profitable trading experience. How they analyze like sector analysis and earnings calls and so forth. Integration into their CRM systems, like a Salesforce type system, and other things they’re using it for. I would say the investment in these emerging technologies was increasing gradually about two years ago. We’re now seeing it double or tripling of investment in these types of solutions right now.
[00:24:17] AVH: How does NSP and AI help in increasing compliance?
[00:24:23] RS: When you think about especially a very large bank where you’re dealing with thousands of employees, not just thousands of traders, but what they also call regulated users. There’re some big banks that may have 4,000 or 5,000 traders. They also have beyond that maybe 20,000 to 25,000 regulated users. These are trading support people, sales traders, research assistants, compliance people, whereas it needed to be supervisory responsibilities over things like communications, chat, email, medium requirements of regulators in the States, in Europe, and in Asia and so forth. You’re dealing with just a huge amount of data every day.
What the AI experience allows them to do, Andreas, it allows them to basically have a much more efficient way of taking terabytes of data and honing in on key areas, keywords, trends, other things they’re seeing, whether it’d be in voice communications, in written communications, in emails and chats where they’re able to kind of identify potential compliance issues, where they can see a kind of yellow or red flags in advance and have them off much more quickly and much more efficiently than they would have just going through kind of a manual process or using kind of an old review system of pulling let’s say 2% of the data out to use this sampling. We’re able to now smartly look at data and base this on kind of trends and the keywords you’re using to really identify where the problem areas might be and address them much more quickly.
[00:25:45] AVH: Did the regulator when this whole working from home initiative start raise any concerns about compliance or could this be somehow curved by having this opportunity to now record everywhere to really analyze it via AI and use NLP to analyze all the calls? Or did the regulator still have kind of a trouble with agreeing to let this trough?
[00:26:16] RS: We saw some flexibility from the regulators for people that work from home. By flexibility, there are certain requirement that every firm has far as deadline for registrations and marketing type requirements. It’s not just about trading itself with all the other functions that support trading firms and regulator firms where there’d be a US broker-dealer or FCA registered firm in Europe and so forth. But the core trading functions that come under regulation, that leading change in a work from home environment, the ability to actually track trades to the entire lifecycle of a trade. The ability to monitor pre-trade risk controls. The ability to actually supervise email and chat and other functions. All trading firms are basically able to adhere to those requirements whether I’d be remotely or whether it’d be in a work in an office environment. Noting that in most cases, banks in particular and trading firms, tend to have stricter requirements in many ways than the regulators do. By that, I mean, they tend to have systems in place to capture things like voice and email and pre-trade risk requirements and post-trade requirements for their own benefits to make sure they’re adhering to bank requirements and their own internal compliance requirements.
When the work from home phenomena started to happen 3 or so months ago, what we saw was that in that particular case, the compliance requirements, banks were fairly well-prepared for that. They were in a situation that when individuals and employees were migrating from home to work, the compliance aspect that really got down to monitoring and trading experience itself and the trading function itself, that was still in place.
Now, where we’re starting to see now, and we’ve seen some announcements coming up recently from FINRA, in the states, in the FCC, and then the FCA in London, regulators tend to catch up to things. By that, I mean when the pandemic first happened, regulators were watching it. They’re making sure the markets were still functioning, but they weren’t in a situation where they could just start releasing a whole bunch of new rules and regulations in a matter of days. It’s not how regulatory process work. Only rules and regulations are proposed for the commentary period. They get feedback from the industry and in participants and governmental agencies and others. What would I expect we’ll see going forward? You’ll see a huge push by regulators. We’re already seeing this. It’s commentary. And to make sure that in a work from home environment, the regulations are actually lot step with the technology and the bank to make sure they’re 100% aligned. I would say for the most part, the regulatory compliance aspect has not been a major issue and it’s not really held back any sort of trading aspect within the banks and brokers.
[00:28:53] AVH: I mean, that’s good to hear, and especially in an environment like this, I remember you had the Chinese walls. And then if I can imagine the regulator. It’s like, “Okay. If people work from home, you never know how they can comply to the Chinese walls properly.” And in the trading floor, you had like really dedicated areas.
I mean, on the other hand, there’s the argument in your living room or in your home office, there’s nobody else from M&A walking around that could infiltrate anything. So I guess it has. In compliance terms, it has ups and downs, right?
[00:29:27] RS: That’s right. There are going to be tradeoffs. I think it’d be clear with a topic. The most secure environment most of the time is always going to be within an opposite environment. Because by definitions, firm control 100% of what goes in inside an office. The minute you go to your house or your residents or another remote location – Again, just by definition, your employer loses some aspects to control. Like you mentioned, they don’t know who else was in the house. They are putting tools in place, regulations. They’re very strict with security and access to systems. in this day and age with things like biometric type log-ins and video and all these other stuff, I think technology today supports a much better and much higher level of security and compliance than we would have seen even three or four years ago. Is it perfect? No. But it’s still acceptable. Again, it’s been pretty remarkable. If you look, again, the big three market volatility that we’ve had over the last three months, the health issues going on in society as well and people working at home have the market that really held up during this timeframe and [inaudible 00:30:28] vertically no major regulatory issue or even market shutdown issue that we’ve seen during this period.
[00:30:37] AVH: I want to switch gears a bit. And you as a very successful CEO, you have been the president at a company I’ve worked before. So even before I even heard that we’re going to do this interview, I’ve heard the name many times come up as one of the leaders of the company. Now, you’ve won multiple awards. I just quote one, CEO of the year. What is your opinion on leadership? I know this is a very broad question, but I would just like get a sense on how you approach leadership.
[00:31:11] RS: Yeah. I want to appreciate you raising that. As far as the award is concerned and other awards received, it really is about the team. It’s really about IPC winning those awards and really being a really valuable partner to our clients and customers during a very challenging period. I think we’re seeing a lot of accolade from our customers, which is important of saying thanks for being there during a really stressful time for our business. That really gets down to the 1,100+ people at IPC that really came to work every day and understood what they had to do to support the industry and support our clients.
As far as my leadership style, Andreas. One, I always believe that it’s important for any leader to be honest and to be as transparent as possible with his colleagues or her colleagues. I say that because you cannot be an effective leader without having credibility. And you can’t have credibility if the employees don’t trust you. It doesn’t mean they’re always going to agree with what I’m saying or what other leaders say. But they have to at least feel like you’re telling them the truth and you’re transparency to the extent you can be transparent. That’s the way I’ve always managed firms and divisions and other teams that I’ve led, and it’s important.
Maybe the second thing that’s really important, I think it goes down to being a leader. Not just a manager, but a leader. You have to learn how to listen. I know most people tend to have ego. Having an ego or help the ego might be okay. But it shouldn’t mean that you don’t listen to your employees. And not just listen, but actually take feedback and make changes where you need to make a change. I think one of the things I’ve learned over the course of my career is sub-confidence and my own ability. I don’t have all the answers, and I know that. I have a lot of very experienced and intelligent people working for me. I would be a really infective leader if I didn’t listen to them when I should listen to them.
The last thing that’s really important at least to my leadership style and to my teams, recognizing what makes your firm work and to make it better. By that, I mean, IPC is a customer-driven firm. My previous firm was FIS. Customers pay our bills. Customers is how we derive revenue. Customer is the lifeblood of what we do here. And there is no such thing as a bad customer. By that, I mean, every customer feedback is really important. Even when they challenge us, we need to accept those challenges. We need to listen to our customers. We need to be honest and transparent with our customers, not just our employees, and we need to make sure that people in the company – And in this case, IPC, whether your frontline sales person or whether you’re a finance or HR person, that we’re still a customer-focused firm and we need to listen to our customers. That’s first and foremost and how we deal with the marketplace. We need to be respectful with our customers and respectful with each other. Again, if you get back to the honesty and transparency being my race, whether it’d be colleagues or whether it’d be customers [inaudible 00:34:04] credibility. When you have credibility, you’re going to be more effective.
[00:34:09] AVH: How do you make sure that people really criticize you or give you feedback? Because often I think if you are a certain point in your career, you are often surrounded by people that just say yes to everything because they’re too afraid to really tell you the truth. How do you as a leader mitigate this?
[00:34:32] RS: There’s no doubt that that’s a challenge that we all have in leadership. There are certain things you can do[inaudible 00:34:36]
routine that gets feedback. Recognizing that I can’t make anybody give me feedback or read their minds any more than you can or anybody can. There are various way you try and do that. Recognizing that any health dialogue is a two-way dialogue. I have responsibility as a leader of IPC to communicate to my team and to be transparent and be proactive and to communicate on regular basis, in a sustained basis. By that I mean it’s not just a one-time event, but on a quarterly basis, for example, we have all employee calls that are open to question and answer type segment. We send out monthly emails to our employees that give them information. But it’s up to employees to also raise their hands and ask questions when they have them.
Some of the things we’ve done which is kind of down to your question, Andreas, to getting more feedback is whenever I go visit an office at IPC and make a point of visiting as many office as I can when travel is permitted, of course, I sit down with at least a half dozen to a dozen employees just one-to-one throughout the course of my trip. And I find that when you get somebody in a conference room one-on-one in a casual setting and just with no agenda and just start getting feedback, employees tend to open up and give feedback in that setting where they might not be as comfortable if they’re on an employee call with a thousand people or in a town hall. I think it’s really important for any leader to go out and do that.
I still do that virtually every day. Every day I talk to at least half a dozen colleagues one-on-one at all levels in a firm no matter where they are just to pick their brain and see how things are going. And that’s how I learned the most to be honest with you. I learned more from that process than I do from just talking to my direct reports. I also really encourage, and we do a good job at making sure all managers, not just myself, but all managers, go out and have regular meetings with their employees, small symposiums, focus groups and others things. So I may able to get an information filtered up to me. If it’s not directly, indirectly, from my own management team where sometimes employees feel a lot less threatened and a lot more open given their own feedback from their smaller settings, more casual settings with somebody who’s not a CEO, for example. It’s a combination of just a lot of little things, but as long as you do them on a regular basis and you put people in a non-threatening situation and you treat them with respect and actually listen, people generally open up.
[00:36:52] AVH: It absolutely makes sense to me, and I often feel that people want to share ideas. Otherwise, probably I would have a podcast with free episodes if people wouldn’t be willing to share their ideas with me. I can see where that’s coming from. Now, I read a couple of articles that mentioned that you live – And you said it yourself, right? You live through a very disruptive time since you joined IPC. And how do you make sure that you instill the right mindset in over a thousand people to get through that technology change? I mean, there’s been so many companies that fail because leadership when a company fail to adapt to the right technologies. How do you make sure that your people adapt?
[00:37:45] RS: Well, a couple things that we did at IPC and we still do, and we’re not the only one that does this by the way, but one thing I had learned in my trading career in particular, especially in trading, that the markets tend to be unemotional. By that I mean depend on what’s happening on the world, the markets generally open the same time every day, close the same time every day. And no matter what happens during that time period when it’s open, you have to be ready when the bell rings every morning and you have to be ready for that time when the markets open. Because if not, you can actually lose your business and your clients can lose their businesses. It’s a different dynamic. It’s a real-time fast-paced dynamic that people in the fintech space that support trading, those [inaudible 00:38:22] trading in their career, they can appreciate that dynamic more than others. They appreciate the fact that – We use in IPC a term whatever it takes. It’s not always going to be fast pace. It’s not always going to be very disruptive like we saw over the past few months. When you go through these periods, those of us that have supported trading our entire career, we realized that you don’t have – It was very instinctual at IPC. We didn’t really have to tell people, Andreas, that you have to step up and work extra hours. You have to step up and work weekends. You have to really reach out to each other and talk to each other virtually every day. They knew that instinctually. They were used to being in a culture, one that we reinforce every day of we’re in trading and we’re supporting real-time trading which requires higher level of support and different threshold of support when it comes to making sure our clients can still operate their businesses, because money is on the line. In many cases, large amounts of money is on the line when we’re doing that.
Second thing we did which I think was really important. We identified a crisis early, and really before it was dictated or mandated by governmental agencies. We understood that our top priority was the well-being of our employees. If our employees didn’t feel like we cared for them as individuals and their health and well-being of their families, it’d be hard to motivate them to actually work towards a very unusual time. Obviously, in early march, we didn’t realized the extend of what we’re dealing with in the future. But we actually mandated work from home for our company I the first week of march, which was somewhat early for other companies. It was not yet mandated in the industry or any city we were operating in at that time, in Europe or North America. We thought that we could just kind of see coming down the path where it was getting slowly worst each day and we figured out without knowing what the risk was, we didn’t want to take the risk as a company. So we actually mandated a work from home environment for virtually every employee in IPC. For those employees that needed to work with customers and still be on site, we very quickly formed an A team and a B team kind of redundancy. So we rotated those teams.
So we took some steps early on that built some – And we still get positive feedback from our employee base on taking some proactive steps. Our HR department really stepped up with a lot of communication, a lot of the benefit information, a lot of tools to support people. Over the last three months, we’ve been very active and given things like mental health access for advisors and making sure people have things to work at home and give an increased days off over periods of time. You’re working on the employee well-being to make sure they’re motivated.
It gets back to, again, how the team operates during a crisis period. Some firms are not used to that. Some firms are. 50-year history or almost 50-year history that we have at IPC, we have a lot of people here that have worked 20, 30, in some cases 40 years in the industry and they’ve been through multiple crises. Those ones are somewhat unique, but they’ve been through other crisis and they know what it takes to make sure the firm can still operate and our customers can. That experience I think really served as well during the last couple of months.
[00:41:25] AVH: Perfect. Now, before we wrap up. As you know, most of our listeners are students, young professionals, and it’s obviously clear that you’ve achieved a lot in your professional life. Do you have any tips for our young leaders that are out there? Those who want to become young leaders?
[00:41:47] RS: Sure. They said they care about my advice, Andreas. I’m happy to offer it. I would say one thing I’d tell, because I support children on my own. Include two that are starting their careers. It’s really important, I think, to have a passion for what you do. That might change overtime especially if you’re early in your career. But most people spend more time in the work environment or working during their course for a day and anything else you’re going to do. You want to really have a passion and the job satisfaction and enjoy what you do. If you don’t have that, it’s really hard to get motivated to move up or really embrace a good career change. If you go to work every day and just go through the motions and don’t get job satisfaction or find it enjoyable, you probably need to rethink your priorities and rethink where you want to be, because we live in a big world. We’re in a lot of opportunities, a lot of different industries and other things that are out there. You’re not stuck at any job if you think you are.
Technically, I think that there are certain work traits that just tend to serve you well over your career that a lot of people don’t do. One is, for example, work hard. By working hard, I mean that it doesn’t mean you have to work 24 hours a day or 7 days a week. That’s not the message. But people that are lazy or people that just put 8 hours a day and not putting extra time when required or maybe work different hours or be flexible, you’re probably not going to move forward. You’re not going to move forward.
Third I think is really important to look around your surroundings and be aware of what’s going on in the world. Again, a lot of people go to work every day, and especially early in your career, and you should. You should put your head down and do your job and make sure you’re doing a good job. But also ask people questions. Look for mentors. If you don’t have a mentor, look for a mentor. A person that you trust and somebody that going to maybe give you advice along the way and help guide you. Ask questions from people outside your industry, something you’re curious about. Learn more about what your company does. What some of your customers do?
The more you’re learning your career, the more valuable you’ll be, because my guess is that, just like my own career, what you’re doing today and what you’re doing tomorrow probably won’t be what you’re doing 10 years from now or 15 years from now. In some cases, it might be the situation. But in many cases, you might be in a completely different company or industry. What that tells me is that skills do translate. If you’re good at what you do as far as analytical type ability, work habits ability, communications with your clients and your colleagues and your customers and so forth, those skills translate no matter where you work. It’s really important to hone your skills. Understand what’s going on in the world and keep your head up.
The last thing I would say is what served me well and I enjoy working with other people that are honest and transparent. I don’t like when other people agree with me just for the sake of agreeing. I want people to give me honest feedback. I want people just to be direct. Of course, to be respectful, but you want people’s views. The only way we can grow as a company, grow as an industry, is have diversity and have diversity of opinion, a diversity of backgrounds, a diverse use on future direction. And that doesn’t come from one person or to a limited number of people. It comes from a lot people in a company.
In IPC, our diversity makes us stronger. No doubt about it. And our customers, they are diverse. They have diverse opinions. [inaudible 00:44:54] well. Those that don’t, the few that I see that don’t, they tend to struggle more.
[00:45:00] AVH: I think that’s a great place to wrap this up. Bob, thank you so much. This has been very insightful. I have never talked to a CEO of the year, gotten career advice from him. So, very grateful for you to come on the show, and I hope you and your company do well in the next times of corona and whatever happens afterwards.
[00:45:23] RS: All the best to you, Andreas, and your audience. I hope you continue to stay well. And I appreciate the time, and it’s good to reconnect with a former colleague.[OUTRO]
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