Nasdaq’s New CEO Attributes Her Success to an ‘Eclectic’ Career Path
Nasdaq Inc. on Monday promoted chief operating officer Adena Friedman to the role of chief executive, making her the first woman to run a major U.S. exchange and catapulting her into the top ranks of women in finance.
Friedman’s appointment to replace longtime CEO Bob Greifeld was expected ever since she returned to the company in 2014 after a three-year stint as chief financial officer of private equity firm Carlyle Group. Nevertheless, her appointment as CEO culminates her decades-long climb in finance, which began when she interned at Nasdaq in 1993.
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At Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit in October, Friedman, 47, reflected on her ascent at Nasdaq, which included stops as head of data products, head of strategy, and chief financial officer. She attributed her success, in part, to joining Nasdaq in a somewhat ambiguous job some 23 years ago.
Some companies have a very well-defined program that they bring young people into to help them figure out what they really like to do to get them exposure to senior management early. I would argue that, early on in [your] career, if you can find a way to have a job that is not that well-defined, that is working for a department head that gives you exposure into various aspects of a department or business, that’s the best way into a company.
Her path ended up being “eclectic” and “winding,” and gave her the chance to try out new things. “I don’t think many companies would have given me that level of opportunity to do things, frankly, that I’d never done before,” she said at the conference.
Perhaps that varied background will serve Friedman well in her new role.
When she takes over on January 1, she will be responsible for navigating the exchange group through an evolving regulatory climate that could get even more tumultuous in the wake of Donald Trump’s election win last week. What’s certain is that Friedman will have to respond to the impending shakeup at the Securities and Exchange Commission, given Mary Jo White’s announcement Monday that she’ll step down as chair in January. White’s departure opens the door for a Trump appointee to roll back some of the Dodd Frank-related rules White tightened during her tenure.
When asked about the potential for regulatory upheaval under President Trump, Friedman, in an interview with Bloomberg, acknowledged the “opportunity for deregulation and modifying regulations that are in place.” She went on to say that Nasdaq’s role in such a circumstance “is to make sure we provide fair and efficient markets and equal opportunity. We have always done that.”
Friedman said in October that she wants more women to blaze paths in finance, which—like tech—has struggled to attract and maintain top female talent. “I would love in 20 years to see that there is at least 40%—it would be great if it was 50%—women across the spectrum of an organization,” she said, “so that young people can automatically see that career path for themselves; they can see people they can relate to; they can look up and realize there’s opportunity ahead of them, and they don’t see it as unattainable.”