Inside Market Data Hall of Fame: Bill Lee - 'The Statesman'

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With his infectious chuckle and statesmanlike demeanor, Bill Lee could have been a diplomat. Instead, he has devoted his career to the market data industry, where he found an abundance of opportunities to put his negotiating skills to good use.

There are three main sides to the industry─exchanges, data vendors and consumers─and all three have competing interests regarding prices and policies. This can create tension between the parties, which is where Lee often steps in. But while known for being combative, Lee nevertheless commands respect from those on the other side of the table.

"Bill is not short-sighted, and can step outside his role as a consumer and look across the industry to see what is right in the long term," says Brian McElligott, managing director of information products at CME Group.

Salem, Mass.-born Lee is about as far as you can get from the stereotypical cantankerous New Englander. Raised in both New England and England, Lee's family moved a number of times and he attended nine schools in 12 years, something that he believes was a benefit. "I have always believed the frequent moving made me less reticent to meet new people, and [more] comfortable among strangers," Lee says.

A love of antiquities led him to a Bachelor's degree in Humanities from Suffolk University in Boston. Then Lee decided to become a teacher and studied for a Masters degree in education. As Lee studied, he also worked for Merrill Lynch at night, along with selling real estate and working for an auction house. On graduating, Lee took a good, hard look around at jobs, realized he would make much less teaching than he was making working part-time at Merrill Lynch, and decided to stay in financial services.

At Merrill Lynch in Boston, Lee worked in the regional operations center, doing bookkeeping and settlement─"swapping checks"─in the days before computers infiltrated financial services. "Market data was only a twinkle in someone's eye back then," Lee says.

The Securities Acts Amendment of 1975 was about to change all that, removing barriers to competition and pushing the US to create a national market system to clear and settle securities, but it took until between 1978 and 1980 to catch on, Lee says. By then, Lee had left Merrill Lynch and, during a short stint at Bradford Trust Co., was poached by the Boston Stock Exchange.

"A former associate called me and... said the exchange needed help: there was a lot of physical activity and lots of people, but it was not very profitable," he says.

At the time, each exchange had its own depository and clearing corporation, and Lee's job was to ship everything from the Boston Stock Exchange to the national Depository Trust Company.

That done, Lee was wondering what to do next when his chairman called him in and asked what he knew about surveillance. "I said, ‘What's surveillance?' and got the job." Lee set up a department to manage surveillance and compliance. Six weeks later, the Securities and Exchange Commission came in to audit the exchange, which passed with "flying colors," Lee says.

He went on to spend "a long, hot summer working with programmers in ponytails and T-shirts," helping the exchange design its first electronic trading system, Beacon. This was Lee's first real experience with geeks, but certainly not his last. They finished the trading system in September 1987, and Lee was kited down to manage the trading floor─one month before the notorious "market correction" now known as Black Monday.

"I was managing the trading floor when 25 percent of the US equities market value vanished in one day," Lee marvels. The Beacon trading system was not fully operational by that time, and was running on a sort of human-machine hybrid basis. "We had to grab people to go back to being runners on the floor to deliver tickets. It worked very well," he says.

After leaving the Boston Stock Exchange, Lee got a call in the autumn of 1998 about a project in Egypt run by the US Agency for International Development, helping the country set up its own stock exchange. "It was a kind of ‘Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime' project. We were teaching them to run their own exchange," says Lee, whose role was to help develop rules and policies, and to help the exchange attract international institutional investors.

"It was an incredible experience. I learned as much about myself as about the culture," he says. "I also learned not to take things at face value."

In 2000, Lee returned to the US, where he joined Morgan Stanley as relationship manager for global market data sourcing, where he became active in industry groups such as the Financial Information Forum, FISD, the Association for Financial Markets in Europe, and SIFMA's Market Data Legal Committee.

As one of the founding chairs of FISD's policy standards working group, Lee's work helped set standards that still resonate today. FISD managing director Tom Davin says one of the reasons for these successes is that Lee─who he calls "a real statesman"─is always aware the other side's concerns, open to win-win situations, and does not just negotiate for the sake of a cheaper price. In short, agrees CME's McElligott, "He wants what is good for the industry."

In 2009, Lee's contributions to the industry were recognized when he was appointed Advisor to the Joint CTA/UTP Operating Committee to represent the institutional investor community.

Then, in 2012, Lee joined JP Morgan Chase, where he remains today as vice president of sourcing and procurement, global exchanges and index providers. Managing streams of market data at a behemoth of a bank like JP Morgan may not sound like everyone's cup of tea, but Lee says it's the best job he has ever had. "I have the best job in the world right now. Where else can you talk to people all over the world and help to solve their problems?" he says.

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