OTA would like to take this opportunity to recognize John O’Donnell for his longstanding commitment and dedication to OTA for the last 21 years. As Director of Research, John has been an instrumental player in making Online Trading Academy one of the premier trading educators in the world.
Beginning his career as a public-school teacher and later transitioning to the private sector as an investment banker, John has brought his successful stock market knowledge and leadership qualities to OTA.
John first came to Online Trading Academy in 1998. As one of the first employees and pioneers in the education division he helped transition the company from a floor-based model to one of the largest DMA franchise trading schools that are currently operating today.
John has been a featured speaker at many major trader and investor expos in New York, London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Miami, and Dallas. He has also been interviewed on and featured in a variety of financial media such as CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox Business, FT.com, Equities Magazine and Traders Journal.
John’s greatest accomplishment, in his opinion, becoming the grandparent to Brady, Brooklyn and Finn!
John is also proud to have enrolled as new students into OTA the following award winning instructors:
- Merlin Rothfeld
- Mike McMahon
- Sean Kim
- Ryan Watkins
- Roger Best
- Brandon Wendell
- Ed Ponsi
- Russ Allen
- Sam Evans
- Diana Hill
- Justin Krebs
And many others...he hopes will win awards in the future.
All the above original students have gone on to continue today to make significant contributions, and each of the above, John is proud to announce have won coveted instructor of the year award at the annual OTA Conference.
I had the pleasure to meet with John one afternoon and learn more about his story and role here at OTA. Here is part of that conversation:
Deanne: As one of the first employees at Online Trading Academy, you have been an instrumental player in making OTA one of the premiere trading educators in the world. I’m interested in how you first got involved.
John: Thank you. I had just sold a successful business. My wife and I, and our two children, had literally moved across the street from the shopping center (where the company was located) near the entrance of the University of California Irvine. We were walking through the center one day when we saw the words, Block Trading, on big windows with closed blinds. My wife asked, “what do you think they do in there?” Jokingly I answered, “I guess they trade blocks.”
I’ve always had a curious personality so I peeked in. The lights were on, and there were a bunch of computers. The floor was about 30% full. The first person I saw, other than the receptionist, was Kevin Green, who is part of the management of the OTA Houston franchise today. The company did not have a classroom. They did have an education program, however, and it was taught literally on the trading floor. My first impression when I went in there was that this was a video arcade. I had no clue when I walked in that door that they were trading stocks and I would become a part of such an amazing company.
Deanne: Did you know anything about trading stocks at that point?
John: I had a financial background. I was a founder of a boutique investment banking firm. But being an active trader, no, I’ve never been in that environment before. As soon as they told me what they were doing, however, I said, “yeah this is something I need to get close to.”
To make a long story short, the receptionist told me to come back in a couple of hours. When I returned, Eyal Shahar was standing up in the front of the room of the trading floor. After his presentation, 8 out of the 12 people who were there said, “yes I’d like a seat in the next class!”
Deanne: What a great story. How did you end up working for OTA?
I started not too long after that; the first quarter of 98. The company had been open for a few months. At that time, a two-week course, not a 7-Day course like it is today, was offered. Our core strategy class was basically teaching traditional technical analysis skills. The tuition was, I believe, $4,000 for two weeks back in the day. Of course, $4,000 in 1998 had a lot more buying power than it does today.
Deanne: It sure did.
John: This was new, the internet was just emerging. You had to come to a floor because there was no real bandwidth at home. I think 56k modems were brand new. It was a different era. We were getting ready for the dot com bubble boom that peaked in 2000 to crash. Nasdaq crashed over 78% from 2000 to 2002, so it was a boom-bust period as markets were related.
I remember when I started here, commissions were like $60 a trade. By the time we sold the floor, commissions were a penny a share. It was an emerging industry. Internet trading was new. This was an era of first-generation online trading software. These were very early stage primitive times when new resources and capabilities were available to the general public.
Deanne: Is that when the company decided to focus more on education?
John: Yes, Eyal recognized that the broker-dealer community like Schwab, E-Trade Ameri-Trade, and Scott Trade—those types of vendors—did not have a commitment to educating their clients. In addition, the universities did not have a very robust solution for education. There aren’t many universities that specialize in helping an aspiring learner acquire these skills.
Eyal felt, and so did I, that there was an opportunity to really focus on serving the client, helping them acquire skills to time the market, manage risk, and eventually participate in multiple asset classes.
The key was focusing on the client. From day one, Eyal always put the students first. The difficult choice to make is not to focus on what competitors are doing—mimicking their methods—but to be a pioneer, to be a pioneer and go out, build your own path through the virgin snow, make mistakes, make course corrections, and get on down the road. And we made plenty of mistakes. Every small business has its wins and challenges. We certainly had our share. I think the reason we have survived and prospered and become what I believe is the dominant global brand in our space is because from day one we’ve always been focused on the student experience. What can we do to make it better? What can we do to add value? You can see it in our culture today.
Deanne: Yes, you can. It’s a very loving culture and yours is a fascinating story, John
John: It is fascinating. It took great courage. Eyal supplied the leadership and courage to make the decision to transition. He had the vision to pioneer the integration of the trading floor with an education experience. OTA is where we are today because of Eyal’s innovation and drive, and I am proud to be a part of it.
Deanne: I am too.
John, on behalf of OTA, we are also proud that you have been a part of this company. Congratulations to you for your 21 years of service as well as to being the grandparent of a future Online Trading Academy graduate.