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August 31, 2004

Rockin' All Over the Street

By Ingrid Eisenstadter

The founders of Lava Trading are singing a happy tune since their entry went right to

the top of the charts. The New York City-based trading vendor - an electronic aggregator of trade information - has become a smash hit. And in more ways than one. Three years have elapsed since the company launched its breakthrough platform, ColorBook, which enables traders to view, simultaneously on a single screen, the order books of all major liquidity pools.

Lava quickly became the market's "largest independent provider of trading solutions," according to Citigroup, which recently snapped up the young company. Today, co-founders Richard Korhammer, CEO, and Kamran Rafieyan, CIO, won't say how much Citigroup paid. Still, one of Lava's investors, publicly-traded LaBranche & Co., profited by $24.6 million from its investment.

Now Korhammer and Rafieyan have more time to play. And sing. That's because Lava's founders are both guitarists. They gig all around Greenwich Village for lounge and bar crowds. They call themselves - what else - The Lava Band. But they're not just a dull duet stretching their vocal chords. Joining them are the company's COO, guitarist Chuck Allen and CFO, songster James Paddon. Lava's facilities supervisor, Chris Crowley, plays bass, and on the drums is software developer, Joe Isaacs. The inventor of all this joyous noise is Joe Lalicata, the band's manager and the relationship executive at Lava (the aggregator). He's the lead vocalist and plays rhythm guitar.

Yes, Lava rocks. All together, 17 people on company staff participate in the performances.

"When we're interviewing someone for a new job," Rafieyan explains, "and it comes up that they play an instrument, there's an automatic three-minute sidebar."

The Sidebar

Alas, that means Justin Brownhill, Lava's executive vice president, had an interview three minutes shorter than the rest of the company's top management.

"Justin doesn't sing or play an instrument," says Rafieyan, "so you can imagine how valuable he is to the business." All Brownhill could offer was $100 billion in mergers and acquisitions experience. But no music!

"Mostly we play cover tunes," says Korhammer, "anything from the 60s through to today." But the band also plays Lalicata's memorable original works on themes such as office cubicles and the refrigerator in the company canteen.

"Nasty," the title of the song with the latter theme, is sung with the CIO on lead guitar, and boy, it's deep: "Yea-ah-oh-hoo, Ohh-oh-ooo/Yea-ah-oh-hoo, Throw it away!/ Hey you, close the fridge, back away/five-day old lunches, tooth decay/Italian club sandwiches, stuck to the tray/Expired date on the milk, tastes nas-tay."

Lava Trading was born to jam. Rafieyan and Korhammer first played together 15 years ago when they were undergraduates at Princeton University. CFO Paddon is also from Princeton, and, in fact, the whole management team at Lava is rather more cerebral than your garden-variety rockers. Their degrees in computer science, electrical engineering and finance are appended with such laudations as summa cum laude, valedictorian and "with distinction."

Lava staff doesn't just sing together; they have been known to bail out of the office and head for Yankee games together. And, they sail. And Korhammer, likes the water. He's a former competitive swimmer.

The company races a corporate sailboat and is proud of a photo showing "Lava" in gigantic letters on its billowing sail, while behind, in another boat, is a sail that says Bloomberg.

Earlier this year, Lava was named one of Fortune Magazine's Cool Companies.

And fast on the heels of that corporate-culture recognition, the Society for Human Resource Management named Lava one of the 50 best small companies to work for.

Lalicata tells Traders Magazine that anyone interested in hearing Lava's band will have an opportunity at this autumn's Financial Information Forum.

The band will play, mixing business and pleasure, no doubt with great success, as usual.