Nasdaq President and Chief Executive Officer Adena Friedman was named to Barron’s list of Top CEOs for 2020, recognizing her extraordinary efforts to keep the markets running while seamlessly shifting to a remote-working environment amid COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our ability to be able to go from everyone in the office to everyone at home in such a short period of time is truly a testament to years of effort by our risk teams, our technology teams, [and] our people teams,” she tells Barron’s.
Barron’s compiles an annual list of top-performing CEOs, based on screens of prior years’ financial results and investor returns, plus the judgment of a panel of reporters and editors. This year, however, Barron’s took a different approach, “weighing corporate leaders’ preparedness for, and performance under, extraordinary circumstances.”
As the virus spread in early March, Friedman implemented split teams at Nasdaq. Shortly thereafter, as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus intensified, she reduced office access, requiring 98% of the company to work from home. As employees shifted to the work-from-home environment, Nasdaq sent monitors and equipment to homes and even provided a chair stipend for employees to ensure they can work ergonomically.
Friedman also recognized the immediate need for consistent internal communications, leading weekly company-wide town halls and meeting each morning with her core management team.
Nasdaq’s preparations for remote working have been decades in the making, Friedman told Barron’s. After 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Nasdaq’s “risk-management team has been driving business-continuity planning, and testing many emergency scenarios.” Prior to the pandemic, Nasdaq’s Jay Heller, head of capital markets and IPO execution, said he tested “our systems and IPO process every week,” and had even tested the systems from an Amtrak train, preparing for any scenario.
At the height of market volatility and record trading volume, when messages hit 60 billion in one day on the options side, the guardrails put in place after the financial crisis to help stabilize the markets worked exactly as they should, including the market-wide circuit breakers, which were triggered four times.
“Our systems performed well, and it was 2x+ for all of our systems,” said Tal Cohen, executive vice president and head of North American Markets at Nasdaq. “Our customers were able to manage that, and we were able to manage that.”
Nasdaq provides market technology to 120 markets worldwide, as well as market surveillance technology to 160 broker-dealers and 50 global markets.
“We have a partnership with these other exchanges, so as they have been facing unprecedented levels of volatility and volume themselves, we’ve been making sure that they feel entirely confident in the functioning of their markets as well,” Friedman said during an interview in April. “We are very proud of the fact that our technology has done quite well, both for our own markets but also for our clients throughout this process.”
Friedman, who had previously spoken to Barron’s about the importance of keeping the markets open during the most volatile trading days, believes strong markets will be critical for an economic recovery.
“If we can maintain strong capital markets, bring advanced technology to those markets, [and] drive international liquidity into those markets, all boats rise in that situation,” Friedman told Barron’s.
Several leaders from Nasdaq-listed companies also made the list, including many tech giants that have helped people adapt to the new work-from-home environment. Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Netflix’s Reed Hastings, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Zoom Video’s Eric Yuan all made Barron’s 2020 list. Beyond the tech industry, Gilead Sciences’ Daniel O’Day was recognized as the company ramped up testing and distribution of remdesivir to treat COVID-19.
See Barron’s full list of the Top CEOs of 2020.
Read Barron’s profile of Adena Friedman.