Marianne Brown recently celebrated her fifth year at the helm of Omgeo. She sat down with BST to discuss how she rose to such lofty heights in a man’s world, and how she manages her people. By Anthony Malakian
Marianne Brown is a cult of personality, which is no surprise given that she’s risen to the CEO level in financial services—without question still a man’s world. It meant being bigger and more charismatic than her male counterparts. This is not something she's trained herself to become—it's a natural, innate quality that can perhaps be honed, but cannot be created out of thin air.
A few weeks ago, Brown celebrated her five-year anniversary as CEO of post-trade-processing solutions provider Omgeo. Brown has always had a passion for technology, even though she started out in the world of business. But in order to rise to her current level, she took absolutely nothing for granted and immersed herself in the world of technology.
Prior to joining Omgeo in 2006, she had spent the previous two years as CEO of Securities Industry Automation Corp. (SIAC), which supplied trading and regulatory solutions for the New York Stock Exchange, and provided production support to the American Stock Exchange. Before that, she held various roles over a 26-year span at Automatic Data Processing (ADP), and had spent her last five years at the company as a general manager in ADP Brokerage Services Group, which would eventually become Broadridge Financial Solutions.
So while not a typical technologist, Brown always understood that if she was going to ascend the corporate latter in a male-dominated IT field she would have to study harder than those around her.
"I very much enjoy technology," Brown says. "I've often been referred to as a geek, and I'm quite proud of that fact."
A Long Journey
Brown’s path to Omgeo was hardly a straight one. She dropped out of college after one year. She had always been a straight-A student, but she found that cutting class was easier than showing up every day.
It's not that she was lazy; it's just that at the time she was more interested in studying the world than a textbook. In fact, to feed her competitive instincts, she would hold "misplaced competitions" with herself to see if she could pass a class without ever buying a book.
Brown paid for college herself and since she's extremely debt-averse, she left college to stockpile money to pay for school. This practice is common among college kids who fail to find their way back into the classroom, but Brown never let that dream go and in 1997, she graduated from Concordia College, in Bronxville, New York, with a degree in business.
Checking the Boxes
While college was a long journey for Brown, she took to the business world quickly. She started at ADP in 1978 as a clerk doing research. By the age of 30, she knew she had found a career. While she was working more on the business end of the spectrum, she would never go back to her customers with an answer to a question until she fully understood the answer and all the underlying technology that went into it. She refuses to take anything for granted and absorbs information like a sponge.
At ADP, she checked off the boxes by running sales, services, technology and operations. "There's an awful lot you learn about technology when you are in the trenches," she says.
Brown moved on to SIAC to jump on the opportunity to head an organization. When she was interviewed by then-NYSE CEO John Thain, he asked her: "You don't have the technology pedigree, why would I hire you as the head of this technology company?"
She replied that a business pedigree is necessary to run technology, that she had checked all the boxes and that she knew enough about technology to be dangerous. She won the job and earned the managerial experience to be the right fit for Omgeo two years later.
Brown, a Brooklyn native, displays a mix of city toughness, cutting wit and intensity. She’s a Type A personality and as a result, something always keeps her awake at night, as she's constantly thinking about the future. But what kept her awake six months ago doesn’t do so now—it’s on to the next thing.
As for what she considers to be her greatest business accomplishment, she points to her team. This seems at first like a cliché—CEOs like to applaud their minions—but in every interview, Brown talks about the favorite part of her job being heated discussions with the smart people who work for her.
In her SIAC days, she had one standing rule when it came to meetings: Speak now or forever hold your peace. For Brown, it is important for everyone to feel that they were given the opportunity to share and vet all ideas. Even if a particular idea is not implemented, people understand why, and everybody leaves the room on the same page.
"Technology is repeatable; you can build a widget and the person over there can build a widget. So what's sustainable about that widget? What ensures that the widget continues to increase in value? It's about having the right talent to make sure that we are true to our value proposition," she says. "We have very spirited dialogues, but we try to have very respectful discussions. The door is shut, we have our battles, but then a decision is made and we walk out as a team."
The Glass Ceiling
Omgeo is a joint venture between Thomson Reuters and the industry-owned Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. (DTCC), so it has had to answer to a client base of more than 6,000 market participants around the globe, as well as take a lead role on industry issues.
This was a major reason Brown jumped on this opportunity when the former head of Thomson Financial, Sharon Rowlands, brought the job to her attention. It's what continues to get her excited to get up in the morning and head back into the fray.
Brown has also refused to abdicate her position as a leading voice when it comes to the advancement of women on Wall Street. As Brown told Waters earlier this year, "I would love to be able to tell you, ‘Look at where we've come now and look at where it was; look at the seed pool,' but the truth is that it's just not there,” she said at the time.
With someone like Brown helping to lead the charge, though, there is hope for the future.
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