Sept. 27, 2021Print | PDF
We’re always excited to speak with Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics alumni who are putting their education and experience to work. For Bachelor of Business Administration alumnus Brad Katsuyama (BBA ’01), his impact has gone far beyond improving revenue or growing in a marketplace. During his time at RBC in New York City, he and his team discovered that some traders, exchanges, and even some large Wall Street banks took advantage of a fiber-optic network to beat retail investors on high-frequency trades. Katsuyama’s discovery and the start of IEX were the subject of the 2014 non-fiction bestseller Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by author Michael Lewis.
Even though Katsuyama’s schedule is jam-packed, he replied in under 10 minutes when we reached out to see if he’d have time to participate in a Beyond the Degree interview. From his work as CEO of IEX to giving back as a proud Laurier alumnus, his commitment is second to none.
Choosing Laurier and the Lazaridis School was an easy choice. “I had some good buddies that went there and I was recruited to play football,” said Katsuyama. “I had read a lot about the co-op program and I thought that was an interesting opportunity as well – but the size, the feel when I visited – it was my top choice.”
His love of mathematics and athletics inspired Katsuyama’s decision to pursue a BBA at Laurier. “I’ve always been good on the numbers and math side of things and I was a competitive athlete growing up,” said Katsuyama. “I loved trading because it was extremely merit based, fast paced, and competitive.”
Co-op placement experiences are often cited as game-changers when we speak with our alumni. While Katsuyama would go on to do placements at financial services companies during his time at Laurier, his first summer position wasn’t what he expected. “It’s a funny story. I got a job through the football team to work at Nike. I showed up in nice clothes on my first day and they said ‘no man, wrong place’ and sent me to the back – I was hauling boxes all summer!”
The following summer, Katsuyama worked at RBC Capital Markets, supporting the fixed income trading desk. He followed that up with another placement at RBC on their equities desk. “RBC was the only company I worked for essentially,” Katsuyama said. After graduating from Laurier, Katsuyama went on to join RBC full time, which took him to New York.
We encourage our Lazaridis School students to explore international opportunities, something that Katsuyama agrees with. His advice to current students – if an opportunity presents itself – take it. “I think those experiences are highly valued by Canadian employers, because a lot of them just don’t focus on doing business in Canada anyways,” he added.
While Katsuyama has made New York his home, it wasn’t always the plan. “I came to New York, I didn’t really know anybody and just tried to make the most of it by networking and trying to make the most of the opportunity,” he said. “You’ll probably find that many more will come to you if you’re always the first one to jump on something new.”
In addition to taking advantage of international opportunities while studying at Laurier, Katsuyama also built a strong network with fellow students in his BBA program and on the field through football. Those networking skills he honed at Laurier have helped him create his expansive network in New York.
Balancing academics and athletics in his time at Laurier set up Katsuyama to make work-life balance a priority in life. “I built a lot of the skills at Laurier that I took to my job,” he said. “An important one was always prioritizing. I had a lot going on in school, and so I really had to focus and be smart about where I spent my time. You spend a bunch of time sleeping so you have to make the most of every minute you have. I still do that now, I did that back then.”
Today, Katsuyama leads IEX as its CEO – a role he said is beyond anything he could have ever imagined. “To be launching a new business and to be on “60 Minutes”, to have Michael Lewis write a book about you. The idea that happened is, in many ways, just a gift from God – I just can’t believe that it happened.”
Receiving that much media attention while starting a business is challenging on many levels. Katsuyama focused on making sure the coverage didn’t change how the IEX team treated each other or how he ran the company. “I knew that everyone was going to be looking to me to set that example.” Katsuyama credited author Michael Lewis with giving him some great advice to keep him grounded. Lewis told him to read a great review and then go and find an opposing piece and then do an inventory of how each one made him feel. “He said if the bad one feels way worse than the good one feels, then stop reading everything.”
Katsuyama stopped reading the coverage. Instead, he trusted his team to keep updated and bring him in if something needed his attention. He’s also not on any social media platform. “Not being sucked into that news I think helped kind of give me perspective,” he said.
When the book came out in 2014, IEX was managing 30 million trades a day. In 2020, they had six days in a row of over one billion shares traded every day. Katsuyama credits IEX’s success to sticking to their guns. “Things that are in that book are as true today or truer today than they ever have been,” he said. “A lot of these practices that I think that we set out to address have not only been outed and identified, but people are now educated to the point where they know how to avoid them.”
Katsuyama has taken his experience in academics and athletics from Laurier and used it to help educate retail investors worldwide. The influence of sports in his life taught him the importance of integrity and dedication. He said it doesn’t have to be sports either – it can be any extracurricular activity. “You have to commit to a group of people and dedicate a lot of time. I think those are opportunities people should really seek out. They create a more well-rounded perspective that you can take to your job when you eventually graduate.”
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