Feb. 4, 2015
WASHINGTON - Not everyone who plays collegiate baseball gets the opportunity to move on to the professional level. That opportunity did not come for Georgetown baseball alum Thomas Farley (C '97), who played four years in a Hoya uniform. Instead, Farley has taken his political science degree to Wall Street, where he has become a household name in the world of finance. In May 2014, Farley, now just 39 years old, was named president of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the second-youngest to achieve the feat.
The NYSE, a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange, INC (ICE), is up there with Coca-Cola in terms of recognizable brands in the world. In 2014 alone, the NYSE raised $70 billion from 129 initial public offerings (IPO) alone. Being the president of such a recognizable company brings a great deal of responsibility. On a daily basis, Farley, who had previously served as the company's chief operating officer as well as the senior vice president of financial markets, runs three distinct stock markets, two distinct options markets and three distinct listings platforms.
"It's a blast and it's hard work, but any job is hard work," said Farley, who recently joined the advisory board for the Georgetown Business, Society and Public Policy Initiative in October 2014. "It's a hard job, and there is a lot to look out for and there are a lot jobs and people who I feel a great deal of responsibility toward, but there is also a lot of fun."
One of those fun perks comes in the well-known ceremonial ringing of the bell to begin and end each day of stock trading. Three to four times per week, Farley, in his role as president, stands on the platform as dignitaries, representing some of the most powerful companies in the world, ring the bell. On the morning of February 2, the CEO of H&R Block, a listed company on the NYSE, rang the bell to celebrate the beginning of tax season. That same afternoon, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, a $200-billion dollar company, closed the business day by also ringing the bell. Both times, Farley was right by their side.
There are also a number of ambassadorial duties that come with Farley's high-profile position. He must ensure that the NYSE stays up to date with modern technologies, while simultaneously balancing the rich history and tradition of the 222-year old company.
"The stock exchange has a rich, deep history and I need to celebrate that rich, deep history. However, our customers, our shareholders, our listed companies, they want to know that we are talking into the future. That we are adopting efficient forms of technology. That we are anticipating the problems around the quarter that are making it more difficult for them to operate their business. We try to do that in a number of respects, building next generation trading platforms, utilizing the best technology, advocating for better rules and regulations around stocks and stock trading and capital raising and, in general, doing whatever we can to have that blend of respecting the history of the NYSE and being a proactive, entrepreneurial company."
His work at NYSE is not the first time Farley has been tasked with modernizing a company. Prior to joining the NYSE in 2012, Farley served as the president of another one of ICE's subsidiaries, the New York Board of Trade (NYBOT) - now ICE Futures US - from 2007-12. At just the age of 30, Farley was given the job of updating many aspects of the 137-year old company to be conducive in the 21st century. As in any time someone new comes in and tries to change a long-accepted method of doing business, they are going to be met with resistance. After just five years, however, the electronic trading and other digital business methods that Farley had introduced brought the NYBOT to new levels of profitability. Trading volume had doubled and earnings had increased six fold.
"It was rocky for a while because a lot of people didn't want a change," Farley continued. "Those people viewed things as going quite well from their perspective. You have to win hearts and minds when you are trying new things. They may not necessarily be your biggest supporters, but you have to treat your customers and partners like adults and make sure they understand your motives and motivations. But, I have to say, once we got a little bit of early momentum, people were pretty quick to see the light and see that we could work together and create an even better, more efficient environment for trading by coupling technology with the old school ways of transacting. It wasn't really easy, but ultimately it was a success."
Farley's work has not gone unnoticed. Shortly after being named NYSE's president, Farley was named to the prestigious Fortune Magazine's 40 Under 40 in 2014, coming in at No. 7 on the list of most influential young professionals in the world of business. To put it into perspective, on the same list were notable names such as Travis Kalanick, co-founder and CEO of Uber, at No. 1, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg at No. 2 and Matteo Renzi, Italy's Prime Minister, at No. 3.
"It was very humbling [to make Fortune's list]. You look at the people ahead of me - billionaires and heads of state - it's like an out of body experience and it still doesn't feel like I belong. But I certainly appreciated it and it was a humbling experience.
"There is a good deal of prestige and public relations that goes along with being the head of the New York Stock Exchange. That has been, I wouldn't say overwhelming, but it certainly has been a new experience for me in that, as soon as I got the job, along with that role came a good deal of respect and attention."
On the baseball diamond, Farley started all four years on the Hilltop, appearing in 193 games in the Georgetown infield. He finished with a career .274 batting average, 12 home runs and 100 RBI. As a senior, Farley put himself in the Georgetown single-season record books with 56 games started and 49 walks. He also ranks near the top in the career record books for games played (193), games started (187), walks (121), runs scored (117), RBI (100) and on-base percentage (.401).
"I loved it. I played with a great group of guys. They are friends that I stay in touch with to this day. When I look back and I think about the experience that I had, the one thing that I treasure is the friendships that I made. It was a privilege to be able to play a sport, let alone a Division I sport in the BIG EAST. I feel a great deal of pride that I played for the University.
"It was a big part of my growing up, a big part of my identity. I learned a lot from that experience. I learned about the values of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a team, of being able to rely on teammates, of the importance of competition. That is something that has definitely been helpful in my career, where I was able to take my innate competitiveness, but also the competitiveness that I learned at Georgetown from playing baseball and turn it into my advantage in my career."