Today, I’m joined by a forward-thinking CMO for an interesting discussion of Culture = Brand and vice versa. After a successful career at Motorola and other B2C telecos, Brian Mehta joined Trading Technologies to help SHIFT the brand and strategic direction of this B2B company in need of reinvention. Our discussion ranges from formulating a new vision and set of operating principles and growing from a one-trick-pony trading platform to a full stack operating system across capital markets to the important role that great culture plays in preserving the brand in compliance-heavy industries like financial services. Always a sucker for a memorable mnemonic, I’m a huge fan of their 3 C’s for winning brands: Craft (your product), Communication, and Culture – which tells us that most businesses are actually B2P: Business 2 People.
Episode 37: The 3 C’s for Winning Brands with Trading Technologies CMO, Brian Mehta
Shani: Brian’s joining us from Chicago. You guys can see a little bit the sun setting over. I think that’s the Sears Tower, now known as the Willis Tower, where I worked briefly for a couple of years. Brian, to start us off, tell our listeners and watchers a little bit about your background and what brought you to Trading Technologies.
Brian: I had always been working for technology in telecom companies most of my whole career, primarily in the consumer space, did some dents at SBC Ameritech/AT&T, Motorola, US cellular, and really did a lot of consumer marketing, big TV commercials, big budgets, all that kind of stuff. Quite honestly, after doing it for quite some time, got a little stuck, not my career but just stuck in terms of doing the same thing over and over again. I think that happens to a lot of people, but instead of just grinding it out, I knew I had to make a change. I was fortunate enough to always have good networking skills, as well as just a great network.
It so happened that befriended a CTO at a company called Trading Technologies. That CTO eventually became CEO. Our friendly conversations and our social interactions eventually became more business type questions, and all of a sudden, it’s like, “Hey, I’m trying to change this company, trying to transform this company, I really could use your help,” did not have much of the capital markets finance experience, obviously had a load of marketing experience and great transferable skills and Ricks reclaim the CEO, he also knew that there was enough domain expertise in the company, but really needed some strong market and communication skills to bring and reinvigorate the company.
Shani: So great. I love that you made the shift. You’re bored in your career. A lot of people would just stay bored, or make a move that is only slightly less boring. Instead, you made a shift to a different kind of challenge. I love that.
Brian: I think a fundamental shift sometimes is really important because, as I said, you could get stuck, and then you could almost your skills and your enthusiasm, and your drive can start to wear down and diminish. When you have made your shift, that forces you to sharpen up again, and that’s what I was doing. When I joined the company, every time I came home, I was so tired because I was absorbing so much new things, learning so much new things. It was great.
Shani: Before I ask you some more questions about my typical culture and how you’ve integrated that in, let’s just give listeners a bit of a sense of what Trading Technologies does. If you don’t mind, even just a little quick one on one on what futures are, because a lot of my followers are finance people like I used to be, but a lot of them are not.
Brian: Trading Technologies, we’re 25 years old. Actually, the company was really the pioneer in terms of bringing electronic trading to be what we are now.
Shani: You guys are responsible for lower margins on Wall Street. [laughs]
Brian: I think folks would say responsible for faster, more efficient markets and trading, but–
Shani: Totally. I was just joking, wearing my former buys or such sell-side trading floor hat. Sorry. [laughs]
Brian: One of the nice things is, a lot of individuals from the floor came to join the company because there’s a lot of experience, not just really knowing the markets, knowing how traders think, and what are the tools that will help traders translate the bit trading into efficient electronic trading. That was what we were doing for 20 years, is really delivering the market leading execution platforms, how to trade the best, how to develop spread training, how to trade different markets across globally, across the different product sets. We were doing that for about 20 years.
I should say, about six years ago, we thought, “How are we going to survive the next 20 years? We can no longer just be an execution trading platform that was installed at the customer premise.” We made the shift to develop a new platform that had software as a service as the delivery mechanism, lengthened our global network. Now we have not only a trade execution platform that is flexible to trade futures, as well as fixed income options and cryptocurrency where the platform is flexible to add new products, and eventually future products that we could integrate into the platform. Like, and we’ll probably talk more about this, surveillance, machine learning tools to help with compliance and surveillance traits.
Shani: Absolutely. Park that one, because I definitely want to come back to it. Walk us back to what you walked into at trading technologies, because you were brought on to reinvigorate the company, transform the company. What was the challenge? What did you do, and what were the results? [laughs]
Brian: Almost like an analogy to my career, the company had been successful for a long, long time, but the company was a little stuck. Me and the leadership team wanted to do some transformational change. The transformational change was at all levels. We’d like to call it three C’s, our craft, our communication, and our culture. The craft is our product, and we need it to make influential change. I articulated that we went from an old platform to a software as a service platform, as well as offer new products. We had it not only change the product, but people that were developing that product.
When you change out what people do, how they do it skill sets, as well as the direction of the company, you have to be so vigilant in communicating, communicating internally, as well as externally. That was another key in terms of transforming the company. Instead of saying, “Hey, we’re doing everything that we’ve always done, and a lot of things were, I would say, not secretive, but just people were not aware. Bringing that out to the forefront, I think empowered people as we were making these changes. What you have, as a result of greater communication and transparency, is a strengthening of a culture.
TT has always had a strong culture in its DNA, and that was employees working hard for each other, as well as the client. That didn’t go away. That’s still a great piece of the culture, but what we had to do was take it into the next stage of this transformational thinking. Pushing it away from, hey, we do what we’ve always done, to say, “No, we’re going to be doing things different, faster, quicker, thinking more like a fintech startup versus a software company.
Shani: I love your three Cs. I want to pause on that for a second and just make sure those who are listening wrote that down. You guys know me, I love shortcuts to remember things. Of course, in marketing, there’s the four Ps; product, price, place promotion. Now we’ve got the three Cs of really a success for any business. I like the simplification of; craft, what’s your product? Communication, which is so often one of the key missing pieces, the communication is incomplete, inefficient or not transparent. Those two things help form the culture, as well as some intentionality. As you’ve started to hear from me, as you’ve gotten to know me, one of my missions is to get everyone at the executive level to take culture and move it up to the same level as strategy. They have to meet, because if culture is somewhere else buried in HR, then the company will never create the environment in which people want to deliver on the brand promise. That’s something you and I were starting to talk about before we went live here. Let me just tee that up for you in terms of culture is brand, brand promise, et cetera. What’s your take on that, your philosophy?
Brian: Absolutely. When I joined, it was an intentional thing to do this transformation for the brand, and combining that with culture. My comment is, the brand is your promise. The promises, everything that you say and do and believe, that’s culture. When I joined, it was an intentional thing to make sure marketing communications was a part of the strategy, part of the development of where we are going. I mentioned to you before coming on, the first year, the CEO, CTO and I met every day for at least an hour. We were developing strategy. One of the first things was, how do we codify our principals and our vision? Developing those things is a foundation for the brand, in the foundation that we are sharing with our employees so that they could then bring that to our clients.
Those were things that had to be accomplished at the first year of joining the company. That set the foundation for how we transform our craft, how we do better jobs of communicating internally, as well as externally, and then also reinvigorating the culture. Reinvigorating the culture was everything from, more transparent meetings, more communication, and not only doing that at headquarters, but getting out to our remote locations. FaceTime globally, we would have what we called, what’s on tap. It’s these all hand company meetings. We really didn’t have those before I joined, maybe once a year. We ramp those up because as we were doing all these changes, we felt like we had to inform people on what was going on. We started to infuse some fun in these meetings. We also said, “Let’s take these meetings on the road.” We went to London, we went to Singapore, we went to Sydney to get those employees involved in the messaging, and believing in the direction of where we were going. All these things happening were overwhelmingly welcomed.
Shani: [coughs] I’m so sorry about this cough. My allergies are really bad right now. Suddenly right in the middle of this, they came on really strong. I’m sorry for everyone who’s listening, and sorry for coughing while you’re talking, but I’m listening intently.
Brian: I think it was key to not just get people at the headquarters onboard, but it was to get everyone globally onboard. There is great things like Zoom and Google Hangouts, but nothing is better than face-to-face interactions. We were able to, as a management team, reach out to our employees around the globe, as well as clients, and just get them aligned with where we were going. That has really helped in terms of our business and not setting the groundwork for not just the vision, but for actually implementing the things that we wanted to do.
Shani: What you’ve just described to me sounds like a roadshow. People think, “Oh, companies go on roadshows if they’re doing an IPO or a secondary offering. I love the idea of a company just going on a roadshow to communicate to internal and external audiences about what’s happening at the company.
Brian: As important, you could do the initial roadshow, but you can’t just stop there, you have to be consistent. I still travel around the globe meeting with our employees, as well as customers, just to reinforce what we’re doing, just to keep the engagement going, because it’s great that you do this kick off and everyone gets excited, but then if you hear crickets for the next several quarters, then it could be maybe just false promises. It could be, “Oh, we did this thing and let’s move on to the next thing.” I think the consistency is really important, and by doing that, it reinforces it and keeps everyone engaged.
Shani: What is the vision and principles that you guys landed on, if you don’t mind sharing?
Brian: The vision is, to be the operating system of capital markets. That’s a pretty heady goal, right?
Brian: It’s basically saying we want to be everywhere, every touch point, where the capital markets flow through happens. Starting as just a trade execution platform, it is pretty ambitious, but we are definitely making steps toward that. As I was mentioning to you earlier, our clients are really seeking that out. With vendor consolidation, cost consolidation, they are looking for partners that can do more than just one thing. Being in the operating system of capital markets, I think that’s a great goal to have. We may never ever fully get there. We are definitely taking steps toward that, as I mentioned with offering more trade execution products, doing it within our culture as a service, and then data as a product set. Those three, as we call them, pillars of our business, lines of business, that’s getting us towards being more of a fully stacked tech company for capital markets.
Shani: Absolutely. I love that. Listen, go big or go home. The vision should be something that’s a stretch, right?
Brian: Yes. What does Google say about the moonshots. I think that is very applicable to a lot of businesses, is go for that moonshot.
Shani: Google wants a vision that essentially translates to, let’s be mediocre, let’s aim for, okay.
Brian: I think sometimes we have to remind ourselves, the moonshot is out there, and everyday is little steps. You can’t just hit moonshots every day. Don’t be disappointed that you’re just making incremental steps, because those are so critical to building eventual–
Shane: Exactly, that’s what keeps people motivated day in and day out to do somethings that might seem repetitive or not very gratifying in the moment, but when they’re putting it in the context of that big moonshot kind of vision, it becomes a lot more palatable.
Brian: Yes, for sure.
Shane: Let’s talk about some of the things that you guys have done to reach this full-stack capacity, among which, and this is going to take us on two tangents, was an acquisition to get you into the surveillance business. First, tell us about the acquisition, and before we talk about sort of the compliance piece and what that brings you, let’s talk about how you went about bringing the acquired employees and leadership into the TT culture.
Brian: A couple of years ago, we acquired a startup company called Neurensic, and they had some really great technology. It was machine learning, artificial intelligence-driven surveillance tools, and compliance tools. They had a really good technology that could get to almost a scoring system of how trade activities are within the right zone of compliance, and using machine learning to really be an iterative process, because there’s always new rulings and new information from the CFTC. It’s an ever-changing environment. That we thought was having a dynamic tool would really serve our client base for both traders, as well as risk administrators.
When we acquired them, although it was a small company, I think the key is whether it’s a huge acquisition or small acquisition, and when I say big or large in terms of personnel, it’s really important that, obviously you’re welcoming, it’s really important to make sure that the individuals feel like they’re quickly integrated. I think as we had already gone through our transformational journey, all these things, whether it’s the mission or the principles or the culture or the fun aspect of things or the global aspect of things, those were already in place, so all we had to do was, we had these various, I would call them brand books, and say, “Hey, here’s a brand book. Let’s sit down and talk about it.” I think the other aspect where maybe we were lucky is, the individuals that came on board really gravitated to that. It was a good fit from the culture. Immediately they were, I think seeking out that part of an organization that had things already moving in the right direction, but also really dynamic in terms of the workplace, the client base, as well as the employee base. Things were buzzing.
Shane: I love that you guys acquired a company that you already knew was going to be a good fit for your culture, because I think that a lot of times people when they’re looking at targets, they don’t even think about that, and then it can become a big cluster.
Brian: I don’t want to oversell it. I think we did our due diligence. We met people that we thought would be good fit, but when the day is done, once the ink is signed, you still don’t really know what you get until you have it. I think we were a bit lucky too and I think that goes into it with any acquisition, you do need a little luck from a culture standpoint, and yes, you are taking some risks, but again, it goes back to well, sometimes you have to take risks.
Shane: Yes. Well, luck along with your intentionality of what you would already been doing with your existing people, bringing that to the new folks. Really great words of advice for anyone who is looking at acquiring or merging with another company to, like in your due diligence, at least get a sense of what the other culture is like, and how people think and how they perform and what they do when times are tough, right? When things are good and people are performing, that’s one thing, but what’s the fabric of the culture when things get tough, is a really important thing to try and understand in the due diligence process.
Brian: As the acquiring company, if you’re in that position, you have to take culture into account. If there are individuals that are not the right fit culturally, even if we may be excel on the technical aspects, you have to weigh those and determine if that’s what you want. There were some technical folks that were more consultants versus, “Hey, we want to bring them on fully into the company.” because goals were different, right?
Shane: Yes, absolutely.
Brian: Those have to play in a factor of your due diligence, as well as making some tough decisions when acquiring not just the company, but when you think about resourcing.
Shane: Yes. As we’re talking about this, what came up for me was, WeWork, their IPO fell apart recently because of some cultural missteps which created some mistrust among their largest venture capital investors, and they were like, “We can’t really go to market with this right now.” Is that important? People have been chomping at the bit to get a piece of WeWork, and now they’re saying that the valuation of it is a third of what they thought it would be. A mess.
Brian: As a marketer, I go back to, that is your brand, your promise, your reputation. All those things flowed into the value of your brand, and if you betray that, then what we’re seeing is you’re going to pay for it, and pay for it in a bad way. You need to be true to your brand promise, because if you align with your brand promise and play with integrity, you’re going to be successful.
Shane: Yup. Well, that’s a good segue to the next piece of this acquisition around surveillance. As you said, it allows people to monitor the trades, I’m assuming internally and maybe even externally. Compliance obviously hugely important in the financial markets. Ever since Enron and the various ebbs and flows really since then, and the conversations that I’m hearing a lot of my clients have around compliance, is compliance isn’t enough like just to have the rules that people have to do that. The compliance has to be married with a culture where people are committed to doing the right thing, not just an order that this is the right thing. The difference between have to and want to, the difference between rules and values that include integrity. I’m curious how you see that evolving for you guys and your customers.
Brian: Sure. Our approach is, we want to make sure our clients and their clients or the end-user, the traders, are successful. Now, what does success mean? In the world of trade surveillance and compliance, it’s to provide the traders and risk administrators with the tools that they need so that they know how they’re trading, what they’re doing, and making sure that their strategies are in line with what is acceptable behavior.
The way that we have it is, there’s a scoring system, and so you know the range of where your activity falls in line with the different rulings, as well as the different regulations out there that oversee the future straits By giving these tools, we feel like we’re actually empowering the trader, we’re empowering the risk administrator to, as you say, develop that culture of doing not just the right things, but being most successful within the rules of the road, if you will. If traders embrace these tools, they could actually optimize their activity and not have to worry about someone looking over their shoulder, but focus on what they’re supposed to be doing, is training, right?
From the risk administrators’ standpoint, it’s giving them the tools to make sure that they’re protecting their firm. That’s sort of our mentality with regard to this product set.
Shani: It only takes one rogue trader to bring down a firm’s reputation for a long time, if not permanently.
Brian: Yes. We don’t want to sell the fear. We actually want to sell and let potential clients know, this is to make sure that you have the power in your hands, right? That you are proactive in this versus selling the fear.
Shani: Yes. Exactly. That, again, goes to selling the fears compliance, selling the vision of success, is culture, and give it a vision. Here we are, right back yet vision to the operating system for the capital markets. In order to get there, the operating system is going to have to be in compliance with all the regulatory issues.
Brian: That has to be an element of it.
Shani: Yes. Super. Well, this has been so interesting. I hope that those of you who are listening and watching haven’t been distracted by some of the finance jargon, text speak and so forth. Because I think the messages that have really come through loud and clear from this conversation that you and I have been having, Brian, are the importance of your three Cs, right? The craft, the communication and the culture, and the intersection of all three, is where magic happens.
In terms of the importance of communication, thinking about if you’re needing a company or even a division of a company or a product, whatever it is, take your show on the road to communicate with your employees in other areas besides headquarters. Take your show on the road to meet with clients for no good reason other than just to connect, and make sure people are current on what’s happening at your business, and no mysteries are created. The whole thing around acquisitions, right. With a million startups out there, acquisitions are happening quickly, and we have to pay attention to culture both in the acquisition target, and then in the intentionality with which we on-board a new company and integrate. Culture is a key piece of the integration fabric.
Then lastly, whether it’s because there’s a trading product for a monitoring compliance or not, getting our folks to a place where they’re not feeling forced to abide by a bunch of rules. Because some regulator in Washington said, “This is what we have to do.” No, getting them to be part of a vision and a culture that values integrity, doing the right things and has ethics because that’s how businesses thrive, right? The difference to me is palpable, and obviously because I am so passion about it. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of these issues with our audience.
Brian: Thank you. I had a great time, and hopefully it was helpful to your audience. Appreciate it.
Shani: Sure. Any last words of wisdom before we sign off?
Brian: Well, one last thing we talked about is, I came from a consumer environment into more of a B to B environment. When it comes down to it, it’s B to People. You are marketing, communicating, connecting with people, and it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. I think that’s the important thing for your business to thrive.
Shani: B to P. You should go register that right now.
Brian: Okay, right.
Shani: As your trademark. Because [laughs] it’s your last name is pronounced Mehta, and doing B to P as a concept is very meta.
Brian: I like it. Maybe we could collaborate on something here.
Shani: I love it. Well, thanks for joining us today. Leadershifters, thank you for joining us, and we will see you next time. Until then, if you have any questions for Brian, you can reach him through me. Email me at email@example.com, or on any of our various social media platforms. Until next time, mwaah.