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“There is always a cost to doing business; It may not always be transparent” with Donna Heidkamp and Tyler Gallagher

There is always a cost to doing business. Costs to the beneficial owner may not always be transparent relative to the notional value of the investments from reviewing statements. As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna (Grotegut) Heidkamp. Donna has served as executive director of RJO […]

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There is always a cost to doing business. Costs to the beneficial owner may not always be transparent relative to the notional value of the investments from reviewing statements.

As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna (Grotegut) Heidkamp. Donna has served as executive director of RJO Futures since October 2010. RJO Futures is the private client division of R.J. O’Brien & Associates, the nation’s oldest and largest independent futures brokerage firm. In 2004, she started a branch of RJO Futures and before that worked in all facets of the business, including as an order clerk, trading desk manager and broker for RJO Futures. She has an M.S. degree in Financial Markets and Trading from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Texas Tech University. In 1995, she completed the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Agricultural Broker Training Program. Her interest in the futures industry stemmed from strong family ties to production agriculture in Hereford, Texas. Reach her at [email protected].


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

Growing up on a farm and ranch in the Texas panhandle, I often drove tractors for hours at a time listening to market updates on AM radio. I understood that market prices affected the family business, but never really understood what I was listening to as a teenager. While studying Agricultural Economics at Texas Tech University, a flyer caught my attention for a 6-month internship sponsored by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and some of its member firms. After visiting Chicago during the interview process and being offered the position, the internship became the perfect opportunity to learn more about the futures markets.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

In 2011, MF Global went out of business practically overnight. The entire industry suffered due to the lack of trust that followed. As the chaos ensued, RJO’s employees stood up, working countless hours to service thousands of confused and concerned clients. They were concerned about the safety of their assets, which were being temporarily held by the bankruptcy trustees until funds were released to various FCM’s assigned to manage the relationships. At the time, RJO hired several brokers from MF Global which presented opportunities for everyone to grow and develop as we merged cultures. Soon after, major regulatory safeguards were implemented. This crisis in the futures industry reinforced the importance of building trust and being forthright with clients and employees on a daily basis.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

RJO Echo Trading is an innovative platform which enables traders (Echo Followers) to review the trade performance of live traders (Echo Leaders) and subscribe to “echo” their trades. When an Echo Leader places a trade, Echo Followers receive the same fill price as the Echo Leader in real time. This offering is a hybrid between the traditional Letter of Direction research subscriptions and Commodity Trading Advisors. Our goal is to improve the client experience for people with a limited amount of time that are interested in diversifying their portfolio by adding exposure to futures derivatives. The product improves transparency, ensures that all paperwork and authorizations are complete and accurate, reduces any potential conflict of interest, and increases exposure to talented traders. Additionally, Echo Trading complements all our brokerage services.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When I first started working at RJO’Brien in 1995, Robert O’Brien, Sr. regularly visited the office. He embodied the spirit and culture of RJO as he walked around the office shaking hands, making eye contact and genuinely talking to every employee. He had a special gift of making every employee feel important and heard. Even though the company has grown over the years, our employees respect each other and appreciate the people that they work next with. RJO continues to value relationships with both clients and employees and actively works collaboratively to overcome hurdles.

Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

1. Education, Education, Education — Women are proactively earning a higher level of education. While regularly working 10 to 12-hour days early in my career, I managed to dedicate time to earning an M.S. in Financial Markets and Trading from Illinois Tech. Now more than ever, many programs are offering online courses to enable people to advance themselves on their time schedule.

2. Family — As the average age of starting a family has increased, women have been able to prove themselves within a company.

3. Advances in Wage Equality make it more favorable for women to continue working and afford childcare.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?

a) Individuals — Women need to apply for more leadership positions.

b) Companies — Commit to creating a diversified senior management team and provide leadership training to develop employees.

c) Society — Reduce wage disparity between high income and low-income earners.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.

1. Everything boils down to supply and demand. This was never more apparent to me than when I started studying the markets daily.

2. Read something daily to enable you to stay abreast of current events.

3. Most markets peak or bottom soon after a major increase in the popular demand of a commodity or product. Some prime examples of major peaks and bottoms include:

· The grain markets in 1996 and 2008

· The natural gas irrational exuberance in 2005 and 2008

· The long-term low in Gold and Silver in the early 2000’s

· The low in the equity markets during the Housing Bubble in 2008

4. There is always a cost to doing business. Costs to the beneficial owner may not always be transparent relative to the notional value of the investments from reviewing statements.

5. Learn about finance by reading about a product, talking to other people, and investing money. Your learning curve will significantly increase when you put money on the line.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are two people that have really helped me continue to develop more than any other. My husband, Matt, has been exceptionally supportive and my equal partner managing our house and boys. Secondly, my internal advocate at RJO, Mary Ellen, encouraged me to apply for my current role.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Success Trains, Failure Complains — I have been guilty of over analyzing or over interpreting a situation a time or two. This simplistic quote speaks to the importance of remaining focused on accomplishing goals. Nothing in life is “perfect”. From my personal experiences and reading The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey, I understand how complaining simply deteriorates moral and trust. Rather than complaining, take time to understand the situation to come up with a simple solution that can be easily understood and implement it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Promoting ourselves in our career while balancing work and home responsibilities can be emotionally difficult. Most women that I know rank their priorities as 1 — Family, 2 — Work, and 3 — Self-Care. Several studies indicate that the number one factor affecting a child’s educational opportunities and development is a families’ socioeconomic level. By standing up for wage equality and a reduction in the income gap between high and low earners, we can create a better educational and support system for all children creating a long-term movement giving everyone an equal opportunity to make the choice to work and cover childcare costs.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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