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August 31, 2003

Tearing Down the Walls: The STA has a new chairwoman and her legacy is unlikely to be boring.

By Gregory Bresiger

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  • Tearing Down the Walls: The STA has a new chairwoman and her legacy is unlikely to be boring.
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Mary McDermott-Holland's trading industry activism has paid off.

But now it's time to see if the skills of the veteran trader are up for a big job, a job that requires bringing together different parts of the trading industry. It also means persuading lawmakers to pay closer attention to their proposed solutions for the tricky and persistent problems of market structure. She is now about to become a major player at a critical time in the debate over the trading industry's push for market structure reforms.

A member of myriad committees at the Security Traders Association, she is a trading professional who has been a behind-the-scenes leader. She helped put together the recent STA White Paper on market structure. Among her jobs for the STA: serving as vice chairwoman for the last year as well as a governor; serving on the STA's Trading Issues Committee and as a co-chairwoman of the STA Institutional Committee. Besides the STA assignments, she is a member of Nasdaq's Institutional Traders Advisory Council and a similar Big Board group. She also sits on the board of the Boston Stock Exchange.

Prestigious Post

Now, at a key time in the STA's history, McDermott-Holland is about to assume one of the most important posts in the trading industry: chairwoman of the STA. Many of her colleagues in the business say she has earned this prestigious post because of her tireless efforts.

"She has been a vital member of the STA. She has served in almost every committee and done everything for us," said John Giesea, president and CEO of the STA. But she has also beaten the long odds against someone of her background succeeding in the trading industry and ascending the association's ladder.

"Mary is very determined," said McDermott-Holland's immediate predecessor, Jack Hughes. "She has done an outstanding job running our conventions. I have been very impressed by all her work for the STA over the past 12 years."

McDermott-Holland's career is a rags-to-riches trading story of one professional who rose from a receptionist position to become a vice president and leading buyside trader at a start-up firm. Hers is a classic American success story.

At the outset, some two decades ago, the road to becoming a securities industry leader and trading executive seemed an unlikely destiny for Mary McDermott-Holland. That's because she began without a college degree, answering phone calls at a securities firm. After about a year, she took a chance and joined her boss when he left to start his own firm.

"He told me that if he could take a chance at age 42, then maybe I could take a chance at age 21," she recalled.

Now she has been with the same firm, Franklin Portfolio Associates in Boston, for the last 21 years. She has been there from the time it started. This, of course, is rare in an industry in which people often change firms as frequently as New York City raises taxes, or the Securities and Exchange Commission issues new regulations. (Before Franklin, which is now owned by Mellon Bank, she had a short stint with SunLife of Canada at the beginning of her career.)