By Tina Vasquez, Managing Editor
Christina McCaughey has had a storied career in the financial services industry, which has included being the go-to expert when futures trading began to migrate away from the floors onto the screen. She has worked for some of the industry’s biggest names across three countries and become a prominent figure in the derivatives industry, but it’s a career that she could have missed entirely.
McCaughey came from a family of engineers, so when it was time to enter college, engineering seemed like the clear choice. It didn’t take long for her to realize that engineering wasn’t for her. “I quickly wasn’t happy,” she laughed. After she decided to leave the field of study, McCaughey spent a semester taking only classes that interested her, including Econ 101. It led to a degree in the field – and a burning desire to work on Wall Street.
“I graduated in the early 90’s during a recession. I didn’t have an MBA. I was reading the newspaper every day and Wall Street sounded so dynamic and full of opportunity, but the question was how to get there,” the managing director said.
The key turned out to be an international program that required going to business school in Germany for a semester, followed by an internship with a Fortune 500 company in Germany. So enthused by the idea, McCaughey extended her education by a year just for the possibility of receiving an internship at Salomon Brothers (now Citigroup).
“I wanted it so badly and I believed this would be the opportunity to get my foot in the door. If I could just get in, I was confident I could prove myself,” McCaughey said. “I thought I would be there for six months tops; I ended up working for Salomon Brothers/Citigroup for over 11-years. It was the opportunity I needed, so I never looked back.”
McCaughey started permanently in derivative operations supporting the trading floor. After a year, she joined the trading floor as a junior trader on the European Government Trading Desk. She was asked to stay in Frankfurt – and she’s glad she did, as she became one of the earliest adopters of e-trading. Before long she was receiving calls from trading desks all across the firm requesting her expertise. In 1998, she moved to London and became manager of the Futures EUREX Execution Desk for Citigroup and held the role for two years before relocating to the New York office to help build the Futures e-trading business in the U.S., which was just beginning to look at migrating to electronic trading. Afterwards she made a series of jumps, moving from Futures e-Trading to Futures Clearing Sales at Credit Suisse Securities, Barclays Capital, Inc., and NYSE LIFFE US before landing at State Street in August 2013.
“Looking back at my career it’s clear that I really love building things, so I’m very excited to help grow State Street’s Futures & OTC clearing business McCaughey said. “I’m proud of the impact I’ve had at every firm I’ve worked at and I’d like to have the same impact here.”
Never Forget: Networking
There is nothing McCaughey regrets about her slightly unusual career path. She’s proud of the fact that she was willing to go half way around the world to get what she wanted, but while she was making moves in derivatives, she wishes she would have had an earlier understanding of the importance of networking.
“I know there’s such an emphasis on networking today and there are networking groups for women in financial services and in derivatives, but it’s like we really didn’t understand back then how important it was to connect in that way, professionally and personally. I can’t remember anyone talking about networking when I was coming up in my early years. When I think of the people I’ve met over the years, I really wish I would have focused more on staying in touch and maintaining long-term relationships,” McCaughey said.
‘You Just Performed’
In the early 90’s when McCaughey began her career, she says she “went in with guns blazing” and that “for whatever reason”, it worked for her, but she wasn’t unaware of the disparities.
“I was very aware of the lack of women on the trading floors and in senior positions,” the managing director said. “In a way, I felt like it was what it was and you just performed and did what you could to get ahead. I never felt restricted necessarily, but I felt like I had to prove myself more and demonstrate that I was very serious about my career before receiving full acceptance and support.”
Because there were so few women in these roles, it was male colleagues that took McCaughey under their wing and provided her with the advice she needed to keep making strides.
“When I started out on the trading desk, there was an assumption that I would crumble and cry under pressure. When I didn’t and men perceived me to be playing at their level, they gave me the respect I deserved,” she said. “When you’re a woman and you’re low on the totem pole, you’re not really seen as a threat. It’s when you begin to rise that you’re seen as a competitor because you’re now competing for the positions and opportunities that men covet.”
At State Street, McCaughey says she is excited to see so many women in senior roles and the overall support for diversity. Seeing women at the level you hope to one day get to, she says, is endlessly inspirational for not only young women starting their careers, but those looking to advance at every level. Surely, McCaughey is one of the women recent graduates are looking up to – and she has sound advice for them.
Go For It
McCaughey says women interested in entering derivatives need to take each and every opportunity that’s afforded to them.
“Just go for it. Let everyone know you’re interested in every opportunity. You must be your own advocate,” she said. “There’s no way I could have had the 20-plus-year career I’ve had if I waited around for someone to notice my work. You have to make your presence –and your intentions – known. When I was given 30-days to move to London from Frankfurt and again two-years later from London to New York, I was both excited and terrified. Let the excitement and opportunity lead the way.”