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August 1, 2013

A Program Trader's Rise

The story of Jeff Radtke and his rise from Morgan Stanley techie grunt to Barclays global head of program trading

By Alan Rubenfeld

Now one of the top program trading desks on the Street, Barclays Capital's success wasn't guaranteed back in 2008, when the broker-dealer bought Lehman Brothers' U.S. operation. At the same time, Nomura Securities bought Lehman's European business. As part of the deal, they got the entire global program trading infrastructure.

So not only did Barclays' program trading team have to rebuild the front-to-back office processing infrastructure, it also needed to rebuild connectivity and establish new relationships with local brokers and exchanges, especially in emerging markets. It was a massive project, as the firm was left with zero international trading capabilities post-Lehman. It is still an ongoing process, but a new proprietary system went live last year.

Jeff Radtke

The firm has been rewarded by its position in the top three program trading firms, as ranked by the New York Stock Exchange. And recently, Greenwich Associates ranked Barclays No. 1 for domestic portfolio trading quality.

One of the people behind the comeback is Jeff Radtke, a 25-year veteran of the program trading business who was head of program trading at Lehman Brothers and continued in that role at Barclays. Radtke rose from a technology grunt on the program desk at Morgan Stanley in the early 1990s to his current leadership position at Barclays. He runs a 24/7 operation that spans 45 countries. Equally important, he has helped expand Barclays' offerings into ETFs, swaps, index arbitrage and derivatives.

Radtke's background in both trading and technology has helped him become one of Wall Street's most successful and prolific portfolio traders as measured by almost any metric: profitability, transaction size, amount of capital commitment or sheer chutzpah of risk taken.

Radtke has been responsible for some of the largest global equity trades ever executed, including numerous Russell and MSCI index rebalances, as well as several huge pension transactions. Transitions done for the states of Connecticut and Texas remain industry benchmarks.

"Jeff is an airplane pilot, and this is an apt metaphor for his job on the trading desk," said Sean McFarland, director of portfolio trading at Sanford C. Bernstein, who worked on the Deutsche Bank trading desk with Radtke for seven years and watched him battle the markets daily.

"He had the ability to see, process and analyze a situation and then manage the process-execute, delegate, whatever the situation demanded," McFarland said. "In the heat of battle, his impatience and temper could also shine through, but there was an urgency to him that was always relevant to the business at hand, which was always time- and information-sensitive."

People who have worked with Radtke and under his tutelage agree about his passion for the business. While his exterior suggests an individual possessing a down-to-earth, restrained personality reflecting his solid Michigan roots, stories of his mercurial outbursts still remain cult classics at many water coolers across Manhattan.