FLASH FRIDAY: BlackRock Co-Founder to Retire

FLASH FRIDAY is a weekly content series looking at the past, present and future of capital markets trading and technology. FLASH FRIDAY is sponsored by Instineta Nomura Company.

Barbara Novick has seen a lot. 

The Co-Founder and Vice Chairman of BlackRock is retiring next month after 39 years in the financial services industry, 33 of those years at BlackRock. 

Barbara Novick, BlackRock

Novick won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 Markets Choice Awards. She spoke with Markets Media shortly thereafter, discussing her journey from being one of the eight people in a room who launched the predecessor firm to BlackRock in 1988, to a prominent and influential senior executive of a $4.5 trillion (now $7.8 trillion) global investment manager.   

1988 was a long time ago. Acid-washed jeans, denim jackets and big hair were in. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the year at 2,168; the Federal Funds rate was 10.5%; Ronald Reagan’s eight years in the White House ended, and George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis to become U.S. President.

What was the trading and investing like in 1988? Compared with 2020, it was quite possibly like the Flintstones in its manual processes, clunky technology and just general inefficiency.  

The January 1988 issue of “Technical Analysis of Stocks and Commodities” gives a window into how traders traded. In the article “Making Spreadsheets Part of Your Trading System,” author Jim Summers writes:  

“Given the number of programs written for technical analysis, fundamental analysis, and portfolio management, why would anybody want to use Lotus 1-2-3 for this purpose? The answer is simple—most traders are not programmers, but they want the control and-the customization power that programming can provide. Lotus 1-2-3 gives both. Lotus 1-2-3 helped me develop a trading system and a historical testing system to evaluate indicators.”  

Presumably the BlackRock of 1988 (which was originally called Financial Management Group and part of private equity concern Blackstone) had cutting-edge technology that went beyond adopting Lotus 1-2-3, but the main narrative is that the firm evolved and expanded, not only in terms of assets under management, but in becoming an industry standard bearer in technology, best practices, and advocating for a better market structure. And Barbara Novick was a big part of all of it.

Novick was the architect of the firm’s ‘One BlackRock’ ethos, which in 2016 she described as “all about putting the client front center, and trying to bring the full resources of the company to solve problems on behalf of clients.” 

After Novick spent her first couple decades at BlackRock building the business, she segued to focus on lobbying on public policy issues, ranging from money-market fund reform to the fiduciary rule to market structure issues.

Most recently, she was closely involved in managing the response to the Covid-19 pandemic; in fact she postponed her first planned retirement last year to help see BlackRock through the worst of the crisis.

“I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara and her husband at the 2016 Markets Choice Awards gala, and I was struck by how down-to-earth and easy to speak with she is given her standing and tenure on Wall Street,” said Markets Media Group CEO Mohan Virdee. “Who knew then that she would be called upon to play such a pivotal and stabilizing role in navigating the Covid pandemic working with the Federal Reserve. We have kept in touch over the years and she has always remained accessible and ready and willing to lend a helping hand. I wish her and her family the best in her retirement.”