Wall Street was on the brink of a revolution.
It was the mid-1990s, and, in lower Manhattan, a digital usurping was afoot. Computers had become integral to the workflows of technology-savvy traders and investors by then. But the broader financial industry was finally opening up to the possibilities that lay in trading stocks, currencies, and just about anything else on the screen.
Uptown, at Manhattan College in the Bronx, Lynn Martin had her attention elsewhere, though.
The Long Island native was studying computer science and mathematics at the small liberal arts school with plans to become a programmer for a technology company after graduation in 1998. But the electronic-trading movement that was reshaping finance at the time would prove transformational for an entire generation of coders like Martin.
Gone were the days of computers being seen as a mere tool for helping brokers, traders, and investors execute trades in the markets. Computers were becoming the market. And now, in the latest reminder of just how intertwined finance has become with technology in the 20-plus years since, Martin, a self-described “quant at heart and techie by trade” who has known how to code for as long as Amazon has been in existence, has taken over one of the most prominent jobs on Wall Street.
On Monday, the 45-year-old officially became the 68th president of the Intercontinental Exchange–owned New York Stock Exchange—making her just the second woman to lead the exchange in its nearly 229-year history.
“I obviously understand the gravity of what that means,” Martin tells Fortune. “When I was growing up, this was not a traditional career path that a girl could follow.”
How a coder became an exchange vet
Martin takes over at what is in many ways a critical juncture for the exchange nicknamed the Big Board.
Between listings pressure from crosstown rival Nasdaq, the rise of new trading venues like the Members Exchange, and regulators questioning the decades-old, liquidity-attracting practice of exchange rebates, the NYSE, along with many of its peers, is in for what will surely be a momentous 2022. But make no mistake, while the NYSE president role may represent her first foray into equities, Martin is by all measures a savvy finance veteran.
Martin’s beginnings in the business came by way of the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange more succinctly known as LIFFE. She joined the derivatives exchange in 2001 after spending three years as a programmer at IBM (which itself is a NYSE-listed company). While at Big Blue, though, Martin had become fascinated by the financial markets’ plumbing and soon enrolled in a part-time graduate degree program, leading her eventually to LIFFE. Then, through a string of mergers and acquisitions and promotions that played out over the following years, Martin ascended to Wall Street’s upper echelons. Most recently, Martin was head of NYSE parent company ICE’s fixed-income and data business, a critical unit for the Atlanta-based exchange giant that was born out of the company’s more than $5 billion purchase of Interactive Data in 2015.
Data has become a linchpin of ICE’s growth story in recent years, just as it has with other financial infrastructure giants like Nasdaq, S&P Global, and Moody’s. The business accounted for more than 20% of ICE’s total revenues during the first three quarters of 2021. And Martin says much of her job during this time entailed leading the company through its own “data journey,” something she now hopes to help other NYSE-listed companies do, too.
“Every company is a tech company, and every company is a data company—particularly in this new age,” Martin says. “The best companies make good use of technology, and they apply it alongside human expertise that operates the technology.”
A ‘keen focus’
Women have been, albeit slowly, taking up a larger share of C-suites in the financial sector—particularly at financial exchanges—after decades of Wall Street and other trading hubs around the world being ruled primarily by white, middle-aged men.
Adena Friedman, for one, became CEO of Nasdaq in 2017. The next year, Laura Cha was named chairman of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing. Soon after, Stacey Cunningham, Martin’s predecessor, took over as the first female president of the NYSE. In the series of leadership moves announced by ICE in early December that included Martin’s hiring, the exchange company named Sharon Bowen, a former U.S. derivatives regulator at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, as NYSE chair, succeeding ICE CEO Jeff Sprecher in the role.
For Martin, women are becoming a stronger force in some parts of finance like investment banking and trading, but it’s a “keen focus” for much of the industry.
The newly minted NYSE president is quick to point out, though, that the women who are leading the way are ones who deserve it—and not just because of their gender. Take Jane Fraser for example, Martin says. In 2020, Fraser became the first woman to lead a major U.S. bank when Citigroup named her its next CEO. But the move shouldn’t necessarily have been a surprise. Fraser had, after all, joined the bank 16 years earlier and climbed its ranks to lead some of its most significant businesses.
“It comes down to background and matching up different skill sets,” Martin says.
NYSE’s ESG plans
While Martin is now just days into the new position, the NYSE president tells Fortune that at the end of 2021 she had already seen some areas where the exchange can play a bigger role, including in the ever-expanding world of environmental, social, and governance investing, a space that, at last count, the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment estimated to sit at around $17.1 trillion in the U.S.
There are still a myriad of concerns and problems with ESG investing in the U.S., especially given the lack of a clear regulatory regime for how companies should be reporting ESG information. However, for Martin, it’s clear that investors are seeking out more ways than ever before to invest while considering things like a company’s fossil-fuel emissions or its corporate governance practices—and that makes it ripe for further exploration for NYSE. (In 2021, the exchange unveiled a new listing vehicle it’s building called the natural asset company.)
Nonetheless, Martin is careful to say that NYSE’s role in the conversation, from her perspective, is about shedding a light on ESG—not holding companies accountable.
“In my mind, it’s mostly about adding transparency,” Martin says. “And I do believe that, given the rise in investments that are tracking ESG indices, that is where that decision is being made by market participants. It’s not up to us to make that decision.”
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