Witad Awards 2021: Traiblazer (lifetime achievement) award—Linda Coffman, SmartStream

Linda Coffman

By winning the traiblazer (lifetime achievement) category in this year’s Witad awards, SmartStream’s Linda Coffman has some very large shoes to fill: Previous recipients of this award include Barb O’Malley (Northern Trust), Cathy Bessant (Bank of America) and Refinitiv’s Deb Walton. 

Coffman, executive vice president and head of SmartStream’s Reference Data Utility (RDU) business, is by any definition a trailblazer and veteran of the capital markets. She started in the industry in her early 20s “right out of school” when she joined EJV Partners, a collaboration between several tier-one banks—Citibank, Credit Suisse First Boston, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers, Liberty Brokerage, Morgan Stanley and Salomon Brothers—where she was the firm’s 11th employee, responsible for answering the phones and ordering office supplies. “I helped them get the office up and running,” she recalls. “It was a unique opportunity because I was surrounded by a lot of senior people in the data and technology industries, and while I was managing small tasks at the time, I was soaking up knowledge like a sponge. The business grew to about 200 people and there was an opportunity in the data group and thus started my adventures in data.”   

Unsurprisingly, during Coffman’s near 30-year career in the industry she has worked alongside a number of influential men and women, although three—two at EJV Partners and one at Morgan Stanley—were especially pivotal to her career development. “At EJV, two women ran the data organization, which was quite unique at the time, and then at Morgan Stanley, Anna Harrington helped me grow from a very data and operations task-oriented person into more of a strategic thinker,” she explains. 

Coffman acknowledges that while there are significantly more women in the industry now than when she first started, there is always more work that can be done in terms of promoting diversity across the workplace. The issue, she says, needs to be addressed at the grassroots level by encouraging more young women starting university to focus on STEM subjects/areas. 

When asked about her legacy and initiatives she is particularly proud to be associated with, Coffman cites the fixed-income data platform she helped develop the best part of 25 years ago during her time at EJV Partners. EJV eventually became Reuters/Refinitiv, which, as of January this year, is part of LSEG, and the platform is still part of the business. “It’s satisfying knowing that we built something from scratch that was solid enough to stand the test of time,” she says. “Of course, it’s been through many iterations, but a lot of the core functionality is still there.”   

Coffman is also proud of the organizations she helped create during her career, especially the people and team-building aspects. “I loved going into Morgan Stanley and starting one of their fixed-income operations teams,” she says. “I’ve always liked the process of creating a new system or building a new team, which is why when I made the decision to come to the RDU in 2015 it felt natural because it was a startup and we were doing things from scratch.”

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