Ivy Exec recently Interviewed Sebastiaan Koeling, CEO, Optiver US.
Optiver is a proprietary global market maker within the High Frequency Trading Industry (HFT), trading on major financial markets around the world. They opened their first office in Amsterdam and now have over 900 employees in locations including Chicago, Shanghai, and Sydney. Founded in 1986, Optiver has been profitable ever year of its existence.
Ivy Exec: In which area of your company do you expect the most growth over the next 12 to 18 months?
Sebastiaan Koeling: In terms of the business itself, we grow by means of expanding the set of financial instruments we trade and the general strategies we use to trade these instruments. Changes and growth of this sort are business as usual for us. In terms of people, we expect the largest growth to be within our software development team. The trading industry has become more and more an IT industry where we depend on having technology that maximizes efficiency and success while minimizing risk and error. High-caliber technology professionals then become an integral part of the business and will likely match, if not exceed, the number of traders we have in our team.
IE: What changes and challenges do you think your company and industry will see in the next 5 years?
SK: The HFT industry is struggling with a generally negative public image, probably due to a negative view of finance in general, and also specifically because of a few significant incidents over the last decade. We anticipate this will lead to new regulation in our industry. Some of that regulation might have a very positive effect on the markets. For example, it might result in products like interest rates and variance swaps, which used to be traded bilaterally and decentralized, moving to exchange-like venues with equal access for all trading parties. But some regulation might have a negative impact on the markets. For example, a Financial Transaction Tax would make trading in all products more expensive for end users. This would also have a negative effect on our business model.
IE: What does Optiver do and why would someone want to join Optiver?
SK: Optiver is an electronic market maker that provides liquidity on exchanges like the CME, the CBOE and Nasdaq. We compete with other firms to provide the best possible prices in financial instruments listed on these exchanges. End users will be able to trade on these prices, but will typically not know who the counterparty of this transaction is. Optiver doesn’t have any clients. With regards to applicants, I’d like to think we attract people that like to work in a team environment of people that always try to improve their way of working, while constantly thinking about ways to improve the markets. Optiver wants the markets to function as well as possible for all stakeholders. In the long run that’s in the interest of the markets as well as Optiver, since we rely on a well-functioning market for our business.
IE: What three words best describe your culture?
SK: Humility, collaboration, principled
IE: What are the best perks that employees get at your company?
SK: 25 days of paid vacation, paid commuting expenses, training opportunities, 401(k) with a generous company match, fully paid health insurance premiums for employees, free catered breakfast and lunch, in-house chair massages, game room, annual Optiver weekend.
IE: Which leadership qualities best insure success at Optiver?
SK: Our flat organization is based on partnership, ownership and trust. Ideas and opinions are encouraged and expected. They matter. Employees are not afraid to challenge their managers in a constructive way. The organization supports this way of working in order to push for continuous improvement. Optiver works in a team-oriented way, where everyone should recognize competition is not internal, but with other market making firms.
IE: What gets you excited about going to work each day?
SK: Always being challenged by our employees. We have a culture of continually trying to improve, and all ideas to improve are welcome. No one here has to worry about whether they are allowed to bring up new ideas. No matter how junior or senior someone is, anyone with a good idea will be listened to, and people are more than happy to challenge each other on ideas. We have an extremely smart group of employees that always keep me on my toes with their smart ideas and ways to improve the way Optiver works.
IE: How will Optiver maintain its success?
SK: Optiver has been in business for 30 years, and has been profitable every year, despite the industry changing from a floor based trading environment to an IT based industry. We continuously challenge the way we work, and don’t accept status quo. Through this mentality we are able to adapt to changing environments relatively quickly. Our current workforce also lives and breathes this way of working, so we are confident we will be able to adapt to future changes in our industry as well.