Guest Post: Erika Olson and the War for the CBOT

Erika Olson and I just missed each other at a rowdy CME/StockTwits event in Chicago but we managed to get in touch after the fact.

If her name sounds like it rings a bell, it’s because she’s being mentioned everywhere lately for her killer new book Zero-Sum Game about the bidding war for the CBOT.  Whenever I get an author’s book sent my way, my first and most genuine question for the author is always “What made you write it?”  Erika’s answer blew me away, I began reading it immediately after and you’ll want to as well.

Here she is in her own words on how Zero-Sum Game came about and why everyone is talking about it…

***

When Bernie Dan, CEO of the Chicago Board of Trade, called a small group of
senior managers into a conference room on October 6, 2006, and told us that
the Merc wanted to buy CBOT for $8 billion, the first thing that went
through my mind was, “Here I go again.” The CBOT was the fifth place I’d
worked since college… and the fifth place to be bought shortly after I
became an employee. (Before you ask, the answer is “No, I didn’t get rich in
any of those transactions, dammit!”)

My second thought was, “The Corporate Gods are trying to tell me something.
I’m going to start taking notes… RIGHT NOW.” My previous experience with
acquisitions made me confident that the CME/CBOT merger would be filled with
drama. It was history in the making: crosstown rivals coming together after
one hundred years of fighting. But when ICE shocked the industry five months
later with a $1 billion higher bid for CBOT? That’s when I KNEW I had book
material.

Almost four years have passed since that point in time. When the financial
crisis hit, the publishing industry froze up and I figured I would never get
a book deal. I was upset because I believed the passage of time would
somehow make the CME versus ICE bidding-war story less important. But things
have a funny way of working out. Now, of course, the very same people who
are the “characters” in my book — the executives at CME Group and ICE —
are helping to write the Dodd-Frank rules. They’re positioned to benefit
greatly from legislation that will move OTC derivatives onto exchanges or
through clearing houses, and everyone seems to want to know more about them.
Yet, as evidenced by last weekend’s New York Times article which called CME
“a trading outpost best known for contracts on commodities like coffee,”
there’s still an alarming level of misunderstanding out there about our
beloved exchanges.

My literary agent had told me that “no one knows what CME Group is” and “no
one will care about the merger… you’ll have to tell them WHY they should
care.” So that’s what I did in Zero-Sum Game. My inspiration was Michael
Lewis’s first book, Liar’s Poker — his only book told from his firsthand,
on-the-job perspective. I wanted to share all of the behind-the-scenes
conversations I witnessed because I knew industry insiders would be
interested in what things were like at CBOT in its final year as an
independent entity. I also interviewed dozens of people — from Jeff
Sprecher to John Lothian to Will Vicars (of the vote-swinging Caledonia
Investments) in order to fill in the gaps and widen the story’s perspective.

But I also knew I had to weave in basic education about the futures industry
in order to do my part to help clear up some of the biggest misconceptions
that those outside of the industry have been proven to harbor. I detail the
difference between over-the-counter and exchange-traded derivatives (will
someone buy Louise Story a copy of my book already?), and I think I do a
damn fine job of explaining how speculation does NOT equal manipulation (can
somebody else send a copy to Michael Masters?).

I’ve had a great time hearing from exchange members, traders, investment
bankers and others who read Zero-Sum Game and enjoyed it — in fact, I think
they’ve all given me enough material for a sequel.

***

Thanks Erika!  Check out Zero-Sum Game below:

Zero-Sum Game: The Rise of the World’s Largest Derivatives Exchange

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