Entrepreneur of the Year: Susan Estes, OpenDoor Trading

Terry Flanagan
This entry is part 9 in the series Markets Choice Awards: Women in Finance 2016


Susan Estes was recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2016 Women in Finance Markets Choice Awards.

Describe the highlights of your career to date and your current role/responsibilities.

Susan Estes, OpenDoor Trading

Susan Estes, OpenDoor Trading

My entire career has been dedicated to problem solving and engineering outcomes that improve the infrastructure of financial markets. A colleague at OpenDoor coined the phrase “All Roads Lead to OpenDoor.” Taking liberties with that analogy, I will say, “All I have Done Has Led Me to OpenDoor.”

Prior to co-founding OpenDoor Trading, an all-to-all, anonymous trading platform engineered to restore liquidity in Off-the-Run Treasuries (OFTR) and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), I had the pleasure of starting, developing and managing both domestic and international high-quality rates operations for various top-tier financial institutions. As I reflect on my career, I think that being promoted to Managing Director and then Head of Treasury Trading for Morgan Stanley at the age of 35, serving on the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee under both Secretary Snow and Secretary Paulson, and in that capacity, having the opportunity to present to the Federal Reserve Board under both Chairman Greenspan and Chairman Bernanke stand out as personal highlights.

But it’s the many mistakes and several brilliant failures which I believe did more to shape my character and build my resolve than any of my success – but I’ll spare you those details.

As CEO of OpenDoor, I rely on my industry experience to continue to build relationships both here and abroad, and to oversee the growth of the company. I also draw on my time spent in Washington educating the industry on the liquidity issues that exist in 98% of the $13.4 trillion of Treasury securities held by true investors, and the work with regulators and key decision makers to ensure we are taking the proper steps to address those issues.

Taking an idea from paper and transforming it into an industry solution is not easy. It requires a holistic view of the marketplace, a lot of resolve and, most importantly, a very committed, experienced and talented team that shares your vision. My past experience provided the view and the resolve.  As for the team—they are the company’s greatest assets. Any executive is only as successful as their team and we have gotten this one right.

What do you — and by extension your team — do to merit recognition for entrepreneurship?

One team, one dream. Being named Entrepreneur of the Year is a tremendous honor and a wonderful testament to the team we’ve built at OpenDoor. While I take great pride in the relationships I have built over the years, winning this type of award showcases how much potential the industry sees in the OpenDoor model, which evolved from our team’s inclusive and iterative approach to platform development. We had an idea. We took that to the dealer community, the end-users as well as the regulators and key decision makers. We solicited their feedback, and then incorporated it into the platform. In that sense, OpenDoor is an industry solution.

OpenDoor is committed to delivering an alternative pool of liquidity to U.S. Treasury market participants to help alleviate the liquidity problems in OFTRs and TIPS. We allow end-users to maintain and reward their dealer relationships without requiring dealers to commit risk or balance sheet. The trading protocols for our all-to-all, session-based, auctions are designed to allow the mutual funds, sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, insurance companies and the primary dealers we are partnering with, to anonymously source and execute large block trades, while reducing transaction costs.

It’s a new market design, that has taken the interests of a wide range of market participants into account to insure the platform benefits as many players as possible.

What is your perspective on being a successful woman working in the financial markets, and what is your advice for those who may strive for this?

The number of women in senior roles within our industry remains surprisingly low. While the perception of a boys’ club still persists, I am beginning to sense change. I have had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with many incredible women in our industry, from entry level to very senior executives. At OpenDoor, I have been fortunate to be able to hire a few. I believe it is a true testament to progress that we are seeing almost as many women applicants today as we are men.

Any woman who possesses confidence in her abilities, works hard and stands ready to defend her ideas, has the temperament for Wall Street. Once in the arena, I believe the differentiator that separates women that achieve great success from their peers, is the degree of passion. Women that I know who have excelled in this predominantly male environment come from very diverse backgrounds, but are bound together by one common element: They each love what they do.

My advice to young women who have chosen finance as their desired career is simply be yourself. Find what you love and pursue it. Don’t hesitate, don’t hold back, and as you reach for the next level, maintain a high bar. Work twice as hard as the person next to you and never, ever compromise what’s right for what’s easy.

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