CHX Women’s Forum Spotlight: Marguerite Donovan

As we look back on 2017, it’s hard to believe that we hadn’t even begun discussing the formation of a CHX Women’s Forum at the start of last year. Now that it’s 2018, we are excited to continue all the positive momentum of both the meetings and blog series with even more engaging and useful content.

With that in mind, our first profile of the year had to be with Marguerite Donovan, Chief Regulatory Officer and Chief Compliance Officer at CHX. Marguerite has been, and continues to be, an instrumental part of the Women’s Forum planning committee. Keep reading to learn more about Marguerite’s story, including how she got from a childhood in corn country to CRO and CCO of the Chicago Stock Exchange, and her insights as a woman in finance.

What are your main responsibilities at CHX? How long have you been at the exchange?

I have been with the Exchange for eighteen years. I have recently accepted the responsibilities of the Chief Regulatory Officer, in addition to fulfilling the role of Chief Compliance Officer for the past two years.

The role of the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) is to ensure adherence by the exchange and its staff to CHX rules, SEC rules and federal regulations through an active internal compliance program. In the Chief Regulatory Officer role (CRO), my main responsibility is to see that CHX’s Regulatory Operations program functions to ensure compliance by its participants with those same rules and regulations. I’ve always loved problem-solving — if you think of how you detect violations, it comes down to consuming data and pattern identification.

With both my roles, there’s a theme of basic compliance with the rules and figuring out how the different rules apply. Both roles exist to ensure that CHX remains in good standing with its regulator, the SEC.

How did the financial services industry become an interest for you? What did you do before joining CHX?

I have always loved numbers and math. I entered Westminster College, a small liberal arts college in Fulton, Missouri, with the intention of being a math major and then a math teacher after graduation. I soon found out that the math major was a little too dry for my liking, but economics turned out to be a perfect mix of numbers and broader concepts. I ended up with an economics major and minors in business and Spanish.

Between junior and senior year, I worked as a summer intern in Washington DC at the Import / Export Bank of the U.S., which piqued my interest in finance. I wanted to further broaden my horizons and was bound and determined to live in a big city after graduation.

Before graduation, I leveraged a program offered by the college to contact alumni, and obtained an informational interview with an alum at Bankers Trust in New York City. Based on my resume, he said I was suited for operations and sent me over to the Securities Operations division of the bank on Wall Street. I interviewed for a management training program they were developing and received an offer. Little did I know I had accepted my first job in a field I would grow to love.

After two-and-a-half years in NYC, I returned to Chicago, where I took a job as an internal auditor for a small Chicago-based brokerage firm; later, I worked as a director of operations for a mutual fund investment firm that handled national and international Catholic institutions’ investments.

I enjoyed my work in the financial industry, but felt burnt out at one point and reconsidered a career change to pursue teaching. I took a brief hiatus, then decided that teaching would have to wait. I began looking for other financial positions and started in a temporary position at CHX in December 1999, before being offered a full-time position as Director of Market Regulation in February of 2000.

What has your experience been like as a woman in finance? What was it like being on the floor?

The financial services industry has always been a male-dominated field. It has changed a great deal in some respects, and very little in others during my 30-year career.

When I joined the Exchange, there was an active auction trading floor full of specialists and market makers who threw their trade tickets and printouts on the floor, a habit dating back 100 years — such a crazy fire hazard. Approximately 10 years ago, the marketplace was transformed to primarily an electronic trading environment under the SEC’s Regulation NMS rule.

I actually miss the trading floor, although it could be a rather intimidating place for a woman, especially a regulator trying to make changes in the regulatory climate of the Exchange. To be a woman in the financial industry, you had to deal with all these big male personalities — it was crazy. As a woman, I found I made better strides in my role if I was more a listener and observer, to counterbalance the big personalities you dealt with in trading environment. I was able to take strong positions, but with a fair, calm-person-in-the-room approach. I earned credibility and respect because of that.

Do you think that women feel like they have to counterbalance their male counterparts?

Not necessarily. In a regulatory role, mine might have been a good approach, but having interacted with woman firm-owners and traders, it was heartwarming to see them go toe-to-toe with males and use their own big personalities. It’s wonderful to see successful women with big personalities in these roles, but in mine, I felt I had to be more reserved to be effective. I’ve found it to be more role-dependent. For a regulator, it’s more important to be the voice of reason when discussing violations, enforcement and such.

How did you figure out how to adapt to thrive in these environments?

From early on, I’ve always been very competitive in sports and I’ve always loved math, which were both male-dominated areas at the time. I went to a small liberal arts college, which was almost all-male — it had only just started accepting women and the men didn’t really want us there. So from the get-go, I was exposed to surviving in male-dominated environments, especially when I was not welcomed. When I began my first job in operations, and when I moved to a big city, I brought that sports mentality with me. You have to accept the challenge and thrive in it.

The trading floor was certainly a challenge. Like I said, it could be intimidating, because of the sheer number of men. It was a boys’ club — almost a fraternity. You can think of the negative stereotypes of such an environment. It was a circus, with all that paper and testosterone flying around. It could be physical — there were fights sometimes. “Who got that trade?” The person who elbowed the other person. Your physicality drove success in the pits. There was a lot of money, power there. Thus, as a regulator, and a woman, you had to expect respect and demand it.

A big part of my role here at the beginning — and even now — was one of a change agent. I was hired because the SEC was changing its regulations, so CHX knew it had to bring someone new in and change the culture. It wasn’t my choice to change the trading floor — it was just changing. But the culture — that I could actively change.

Have you noticed greater representation of women in the industry?

We’re a tech-based industry, especially more recently, and we’re seeing changes. There are more women in the field now. The empowerment is what has really changed in the last three to five years especially, with women’s empowerment groups being established. Organizations like the Securities Traders Association are creating women’s forums, dedicated to women empowering each other.

That’s not to say there weren’t people and groups trying to help women when I was starting out as well. I was also blessed with male mentors who wanted to support women entering and being successful in the industry. The management training program I participated in at Bankers Trust thirty years ago hired primarily women and minorities to be trainees — I am not sure if that was a concerted effort on the organization’s part at the time or if it just happened by chance.

My experience has been, when there is diversity in management, a company seems more likely to hire more women and minorities. People have to listen to and empower each other. And these forums provide a place for voices to be heard. As a member of the CHX Women’s Forum planning committee, I’ve been so surprised and thrilled by the response we’ve received. It’s been so well-received — people look forward to it.

You mentioned that you’ve had some impactful male mentors. Can you talk a little more about how their guidance helped you?

I was from a small rural town of 10,000, and attended a Midwestern college of 600 people, so I was very green when I moved to New York City. In that first job, I had the pleasure of working for the head of the securities division, who became almost a father figure to me. He had no college education — he had started at the bank out of high school. I had come from a blue-collar environment and moved into a white-collar industry, and he showed me that someone could be very successful regardless of their background or beginnings, even in an industry that I thought maybe wasn’t for me. That lesson of him starting from the bottom and moving up to a senior management role in a major bank on Wall Street really made an impact on me. And he was the kindest person.

A quick story: I got pickpocketed on the train on my first day of work in New York City. It was the end of August or beginning of September, and I was a 21-year-old kid from cornfield country with a Midwest accent going down to Wall Street on the subway. People were smashed in the train like it was a scene from Seinfeld. One stop before Wall Street, my purse fell open and I realized that my wallet was gone. I went in to work — ready to cry — and told my boss. He handed me a $20 bill across the desk and said, “Please come back. It will be okay.” And I did.

Here at the CHX, Dan Liberti was another important mentor. When I started as a temporary employee, he was the one who said, “I’m writing up a new job description, and I think you’d be perfect for it.” I was 35 at that point, and I was thinking of teaching, but the job and the floor were exciting. Dan was very supportive and steady — he taught me the ropes. I had a financial background, but he taught me the regulatory world of an exchange. He hired me for my first job here, and let me run with it. He let me build/rebuild the market surveillance program. He had the confidence in me to be a decision-maker very early on in my new role.

What advice do you have for young women looking to enter the industry today? And how can today’s women in fintech build a bridge for the future?

My advice is to not be intimidated. Your skills and talents will carry you to success, to the extent that you can accept the challenge, commit and work through it.

With any industry, it’s a matter of problem-solving and asking for advice from peers or superiors when you hit a roadblock. Ask questions. Ask for help — that’s something I think people are often afraid to do. Don’t be afraid of failure — that’s how you learn.

Don’t stay in one position — I’ve stayed at CHX a long time because I love what I do, but I’ve moved through a variety of roles both here and beforehand. Don’t be afraid to try different things, even if you don’t know everything about the opportunity. Don’t get pigeonholed.

You can talk to other women too. From the infancy of my career, I’ve always seen women supporting each other. Contrary to what some believe, we’re not each other’s enemies or competition — we should support, empower and learn from each other. We as women face all general workplace issues and unique ones. With support from other women, you gain the most important insights.