By Jessica Titlebaum (Chicago)
“As soon as I walked onto the trading floor they had me hook, line and sinker,” said Robin Ross, Managing Director of Interest Rate products at CME Group. “You could almost taste what was going on in the markets.”
Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, Ross learned about Municipal Bonds from her father. When his eyesight deteriorated, she would read call features for the bonds from the books her dad brought home. She joined her father’s firm during her senior year of college and the company sponsored her to take the NASD Series 7 Test. At the time, she was the youngest woman to pass the test.
“There were no women in the municipal bond business in Little Rock,” said Ross. “Men thought it was cute that I wanted to sell bonds.”
After realizing she needed to get out of Arkansas to succeed in the municipal bond market, she moved to Jacksonville, Florida with her best friend. There she worked at Atlantic National Bank selling municipal bonds. Two years later, she started trading government securities and used financial futures to hedge and do yield curve trades.
“This was the 1980s when Volcker raised interest rates to deal with inflation. The yield curve was doing crazy things,” said Ross.
After seeing an ad in the Wall Street Journal for a job in Chicago selling fixed income futures on the trading floor, she began working for GNP Commodities where she “fell in love with the trading floor.”
At the age of 27, recently married and pregnant with her first child, Robin Ross left GNP Commodities and launched an introducing brokerage business with her husband. She had employees manage the business while she went on maternity leave, but kept in touch with clients from home. After her second child was born, Ross left the business and thought she was leaving the workforce all together.
“I neglected to keep in touch with my client base or industry colleagues because I thought I was out of the business for good to focus on raising my children,” said Ross.
After the stock market crash in 1987, Ross’s husband lost his job and she was forced to go back to work.
“Many people take sabbaticals from their careers for a wide variety of reasons. Just make sure that when you are ready to get back on the on-ramp that you have people to help you,” she said. “Nowadays there are so many tools to help you keep in touch with your professional network like LinkedIn.”
Ross explained that the fundamentals of the market had not changed in the 16 months she took off. She was up to date on interest rate movements and Federal Reserve policies; however, she was met with a challenge.
“It was hard to be taken seriously,” she said. “Upon returning to the industry, folks questioned whether or not I was back in it for the long-term, which made it difficult in the beginning. I had to earn my stripes again and prove I was here to stay.”
Ross hasn’t left since. Through networking she was able to secure a position at JP Morgan as a producing manager. She was working there when she turned 40 and had a career changing moment.
She explained that she was always second guessing herself and thinking that everyone else knew more than her. “I looked at myself in the mirror one day and decided I needed to trust myself. It was as if something internal clicked in me,“ said Ross.
Her change in attitude altered the way she looked at herself and in turn, changed the way other people looked at her.
Another defining moment occurred a few years later when managing, producing, raising kids and nurturing her marriage got too much for her to handle.
“I realized that women can have it all – just not all at the same time,” said Ross. “I had to cut back on my responsibilities and re-prioritize. The move made me realize what I really wanted to do – which was be a manager.”
Career Advice for Women Traders
Currently, as Managing Director at the CME Group, Ross is responsible for expanding the Interest Rate business globally.
“The team has grown from 4 to 15 people in the 5 years I have been here,” said Ross. She explained that the group had not only grown numerically but geographically too. “We have 2 in London, 1 in Singapore and 2 in New York.”
According to Ross, about a quarter of managing directors at CME Group are women and in fact, she has three women on her Interest Rate team.
“I try to encourage women to pursue sales and trading positions,” said Ross. “Women are historically underrepresented on the trading floor, but several of the most successful traders in Eurodollar futures were women.
Ross admits that growing up all her mentors were men because there were so few women in the industry. As a role model herself, Ross reminds women to keep in touch with contacts and stresses the importance of networking. She also believes that women need to ask for opportunities.
“I think that one of the reasons the pay gap exists stems from the fact that men ask and women don’t,” said Ross.
She also recommends mental health breaks. “I recently took up meditating,” she said. “It helps me focus, keeps me calm and gets me back to what is important.”