Inside Market Data Hall of Fame: Barry Raskin, 'The Builder'

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Barry Raskin, President, SIX Financial Information USA

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the US arm of SIX Financial Information (formerly Telekurs Financial) during its 26 years of operation. But one thing that has remained the same is the steady, guiding presence of Barry Raskin, who has spent many of those years at the helm, steering the company safely through external crises, building trust and long-term relationships, and rebuilding the company again and again after internal change.

After initially wanting to become a lawyer and studying labor relations, Raskin changed his mind and switched to finance, starting out as a financial analyst at a manufacturer of vehicles for transporting military weapons. “I hated it,” he recalls, describing how it influenced his own management style, which employees say makes them feel more like family. “The plant manager would call daily three-hour meetings and scream at everyone. And I thought, ‘I don’t want to be that guy who’s miserable in his job; I want to be in a job where everybody wants to come to work’.”

And if not for ex-Bunker Ramo exec Bill Howard, Raskin might have found long-term happiness at his next employer, Comtex News Network. Howard joined Comtex when Bunker Ramo was split and sold to Olivetti and ADP, and brought one of his former clients, a European data vendor called Telekurs, before persuading Raskin and Dinesh Chheda to take a leap of faith and join him in setting up a US subsidiary for Telekurs.

However, they didn’t leap far, leasing space in the same Stamford, CT office park as Comtex—where SIX still remains today—ostensibly because Howard, who lived in Trumbull, CT, didn’t want to commute to New York City, but also because for a fast-growing company, space and staff were cheaper in Connecticut.

To establish a credible US business beyond just an outpost for the Swiss vendor, Howard and his team knew they needed a ticker plant primarily capable of delivering domestic data, which could be used as a vehicle to introduce clients to the vendor’s international data. Faced with the options of building a data business from scratch or leasing data from a third party, Telekurs first licensed data from, then ultimately bought Standard & Poor’s Trading Systems from McGraw-Hill. At the time, S&P’s Ticker III made Telekurs the market-leading datafeed supplier, followed by Reuters’ Marketfeed 2000.

But when tensions arose over products and management between the US arm and its Swiss parent, Howard and Chheda were ousted, and Raskin feared he was next. But instead, the company kept him on under new president Ken Marlin, who in 1995 bought out parts of Telekurs to form Telesphere. Telekurs then asked Raskin to take over as president of what remained. But since Marlin negotiated a supply of Telekurs’ data, what remained of Telekurs USA was effectively competing with its Swiss parent.

As CFO, Raskin had been responsible for finance, administration, and basically all operations outside of product development and sales. Now, as president, he was tasked with building up the company again from scratch, and for driving every aspect of the business. Fortunately, Raskin was as comfortable in the front office as he had been in the back office, displaying the personality that would make him a fixture at industry forums.

“Part of my finance role was managing client contracts, so I was already negotiating with clients, and I became the de facto lawyer, structuring contracts, and had to learn the business,” Raskin says. “To be successful in any business, you’ve got to understand your clients, and I felt it was important to learn the business, our customers, and their requirements, so that when they argued a point in a contract, I had to understand their business to understand their needs. So over time, by necessity, I learned all that, and had to be comfortable going out and talking to customers. I’m not a ‘data guy,’ but I knew the products, workflows and people.”

One time, Raskin was asked to sit in on a sales meeting with a major client, only to find that the salesperson didn’t show up. “So I had to run the meeting, and I was fine with that. That’s what I enjoy. I’d always prefer to be out there talking to clients…. The way I see it, everyone’s in customer service, everyone’s in sales—ultimately, everyone is a representative for the company,” and should take advantage of the willingness of industry participants to talk openly about their issues, he says. “If I don’t hear from a customer, I worry, because it means they aren’t using our products. I want them to call and yell or ask me to do more for them.”

In this way, Raskin signed Bernie Weinstein’s ILX as his first new client, and set about rebuilding the business. One of the ways the vendor regrew itself was to innovate—for example, by being the first to develop a coded corporate actions feed; another was to push its executives into involvement with industry-level discussions, like the creation of the original ISIN identifiers. But Telekurs still wanted more visibility, and struck a deal with former feed partner Standard & Poor’s that would see S&P take over sales and marketing for Telekurs products in the US, and Telekurs provide similar services for S&P in Europe. In effect, Telekurs could only sell real-time data in the US, and was hampered by not being able to sell supporting non-real-time data. The deal eventually unraveled, and Raskin was again left to rebuild the company.

Now, Raskin is still building, focusing on living up to SIX’s motto of “unlocking the potential”—especially where he feels the industry is still just scratching the surface, such as Latin America and Canada—and on leveraging the full potential of being part of SIX Group. “When I mention that we own the Swiss Exchange, that starts a whole new conversation, because people realize we’re not just another small data vendor,” he says. “I’ll measure our success when people no longer think of us as the Swiss data vendor. I want us to be thought of as one of the premier global data vendors. Then I could hang up my spurs,” he says.

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