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E-Trade CEO tells Siena students to ‘run into’ problems

College alumnus visits campus
E-Trade CEO and Siena alumnus Karl Roessner speaks with business students on campus Monday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
E-Trade CEO and Siena alumnus Karl Roessner speaks with business students on campus Monday.

Karl Roessner, a Siena College graduate and CEO of online brokerage giant E-Trade, was educated by the friars. Growing up on Long Island, he went to Catholic school and continued in that tradition all the way through law school at St. Johns University in New York.

“It felt like home to me,” he said of Siena College, where he graduated in 1989 and returned for the first time this week.  

While talking with over 200 business students who packed a large lecture hall to listen to Roessner on Monday afternoon, he recalled his years at Siena and the Franciscan values he has carried with him through his career as a lawyer and now a chief executive.

“It taught me to be accepting, be accepting of the views of others,” said Roessner, who was promoted to CEO of E-Trade in September after working more than seven years as the company’s general counsel. “There’s no reason to stand on a soap box and say I’m right until you understand everyone else’s views.”

As general counsel, Roessner worked for five different CEOs in six years, giving him a chance to sample a variety of leadership styles and personalities, he told the business students. Through that “parade of the good, the bad and the ugly,” he developed core leadership principles: hire smart and talented people; communicate clear goals and expectations; be “agile” and respond quickly.   

As a chief executive, he is held accountable for all of the company’s problems. Instead of dodging or hiding from challenges, he said, a leader needs to attack them head on.

“You need to run into a problem, and you need to stay in the problem until it’s done,” he said.

He urged the students to take risks and pursue their dreams, especially while they are young. He also said they should never be intimidated by other people with fancier credentials or degrees. He told the students that if they made it to the same place as those people, they should feel confident to work hard and go after their goals.  

“If you are in that room, no matter where you started or where you came from; if you worked hard to get there, you deserve it. If you have gotten through the door, own it.”

As a lawyer at a major law firm, Roessner said, he at one point worked 84 straight days – 15 hours a day – to make partner. He told the students that hard work is critical to success and that it sometimes means sacrificing a more traditional work-life balance. Starting out, he said it is critical the students make themselves indispensable to their employees, treating every assignment seriously.

“There is no job too small to take on and every task you are given, you need to execute it as if it is the most important thing on the table,” he said.

The students should also be open to opportunities and envision jobs and businesses that don’t yet exist, reminding them he didn’t have a laptop or smartphone when he sat where they do now.

“When I was there, never would I have known that I would work for a company that didn’t exist on a technology that didn’t exist,” he said.

Categories: Business, News, Schenectady County

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