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From FBI Agent to Managing Risk at Barclays

Find out how our Head of Americas Equities went from working undercover to overseeing a national team

Eric Schlanger  - Head of Americas Equities, New York - 23 years in the industry - 15 years at Barclays

What was your first job out of college?

After law school, I joined the FBI. I did all sorts of crazy stuff – adopted different identities as an undercover agent, wore a wire, bought stolen goods out of “my warehouse” and posed as a drug dealer – then prepared cases for trial. I’d been there for a little over three years when a conversation with an old college buddy triggered an interest in finance. He was trading zero coupon bonds (bonds bought at a price lower than their face value, with the face value repaid at the time of maturity) at a bulge bracket firm and I couldn’t believe how much opportunity there was in that field. 

So, I started interviewing for finance jobs and a particularly helpful recruiter gave me a bunch of books to read. One was The New Market Wizards, which blew my mind. I thought, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do – I want to be a trader.’ While I was on undercover assignments, I’d be reading about bonds, option theory and trading.

So how did you get into the industry?

It was tough because lots of banks were cutting headcount back in 1994 with the Federal Reserve raising interest rates; I finally managed to land a job with a floor-based market maker for a private trading group. I worked on the floor of the American Stock Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange, making two-sided markets, trading different series of options and learning a lot about risk management.

It was just like the movie Trading Places – loud, frenetic and competitive. I spent all day yelling and screaming, trying to get on lucrative tickets and then manage my risk. I enjoyed the challenges and the pressures – something about the resilience, adaptability and stress tolerance I’d built up in the FBI helped me handle it. While I learned a lot and “enjoyed” my time on the floor, it wasn’t a role I wanted long-term.

And your career path after that?

From there I joined a hedge fund as an upstairs market maker covering volatility products. But in 2002, the hedge fund decided to relocate to San Francisco. That’s no place for a New Yorker like me. Luckily, Lehman Brothers were looking for a volatility trader and took me on. I didn’t think I’d stay long. For one thing, I had to wear a suit and I hate wearing a suit. For another, it was crazy hot under my desk. But, I fell in love with the people and the team aspect of working in a large organization.

I ultimately became Co-Head of Derivative Trading. Then, a couple of years after Barclays acquired Lehman Brothers, I became Head of Flow Derivatives Sales & Trading, making me the first person in Markets to straddle the major functions of both sales and trading. That was my favorite job. I could get close to clients and risk, but also focus on increasing net revenues and innovating in Sales & Trading.

In 2012, I was asked to be Co-Head of Sales, Americas across all products. I got much more into client strategy, making the best use of resources, planning marketing and growing market share. At the end of 2013, I took on my current job as Head of Americas Equities. I lead the team, help manage the risk for the floor and make personnel decisions – it’s a job I love.

How do the skills you’ve gained so far help you?

Obviously the risk management skills I gained on the trading floor have been invaluable. My background in law, and particularly in the FBI, taught me how to read legal documents and break down and analyze complex information. That’s extraordinarily helpful in today’s regulatory environment.

What do you love about Barclays?

I love Barclays’ global reach and diversity. There are over 120,000 people working here and you can learn so much from them. It’s like going to one of the biggest universities in the world. I’ve learned from managers and colleagues alike about trading, clients, how to grow a business, how to innovate and more.

How do you overcome work challenges?

I focus on long-term goals and figure out the short-term steps to achieve them. And I remind myself that it’s not ‘if’ we’ll overcome the challenge, but ‘when.’ I try to get better every day. 

And the best advice you’ve received?

Aim to get better, increase your know-how and learn from those around you on a continuous basis. That will give you the building blocks to withstand the inevitable twists and turns in every career. I can recommend some great books that will really ramp up your knowledge of investment banking: Street Freak: Money and Madness at Lehman Brothers; The New Market Wizards: Conversations with America’s Top Traders; Reminiscences of a Stock Operator; and How to Make Money in Stocks: A Winning System in Good Times and Bad. They may have been around for a while, but what they teach you is still relevant.