Last year, I took my middle school-aged daughters to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). This was part of an overly-ambitious plan to show them that there was more to NYC than shopping, restaurants and shows. Shockingly, they were more excited about hitting Dylan’s Candy Bar than touring startups in rundown SOHO office buildings.
At the Exchange, we met former first lady Laura Bush, who was ringing the opening bell that day, and popular market guru Jim Cramer.
But the person my daughters will likely remember most was Jennifer Klesaris, with whom we were lucky enough to spend an hour. Ms. Klesaris is one of the fewer than five percent of the people working the floor of the exchange who are women.
Jen works for a major brokerage firm and has been on The Floor for over ten years. She’s a sharp multi-tasker with the temperament allowing her to thrive amidst chaos — all qualities of a good trader. We arrived minutes before the opening, with Mrs. Bush waving three feet away, five reporters doing live television feeds, and brokers yelling information at her as the opening bell rang. Jen’s system also picked that moment to go haywire. She ignored all this while calmly explaining to my daughters what each screen did.
Where did Jen picked up the skills to exist in this competitive, testosterone-filled environment? She shrugged, “I was an athlete. I can’t tell you how much playing sports as a kid helped me.”
Jen grew up in Boston playing all kinds of sports — no video games for her.
“I came home when the streetlights turned on,” she recalled. When her family moved to Long Island the summer before she entered seventh grade, sports helped her make the often bumpy transition into a new school easier.
“I had already met a bunch of the kids playing summer sports. That really helped.” She eventually settled on swimming, basketball, and softball, somehow getting missed by the lacrosse coaches in both Boston and Long Island, who should be kicking themselves.
Like most kids, she chose her college, North Carolina, through word of mouth around the playing fields and the input of a trusted coach. She found the pace of college difficult enough, multiplied by the challenge of playing a sport. But her college teammates gave her an immediate network.
“You spend a lot of time with the same people and deal with a range of emotions – from having all morning classes (so you can make practice), to injuries, to finding the time to study… It’s tough,” Jen laughed. “It helps to be surrounded by people who ‘get it.’ We called it a ‘Trauma Bond’.”
After graduating from Carolina in 2000, Jen applied the perseverance she developed on the field to her career. The confidence she built helped her network her way into a visit to the trading floor, where something clicked. “The energy and intensity was like something I had never seen. I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”
She started out simply fetching coffee and lunches, but quickly moved on to bigger roles, applying the lessons she learned on the field: pay your dues, respect authority, and be disciplined.
“I took the early train, and was used to working to perfect something every day, Jen explained. “Sports drilled into me that nothing just ‘comes to you’ without hard work and dedication,” Jen said, adding that she only called out sick once in her career. “Sports trained my mind to think differently under pressure, and showed me it can be an advantage if you can tune out chaos, focus, listen, gather information, and support your team… just like the (NYSE) floor.”
“Competing opens your eyes at a young age to unfairness in life and builds physical and mental toughness,” Jen continued. “You are taught to ignore things out of your control and not to mope about a bad call or error. This frame of mind helps with the ups and downs of life.”
Sports also helped Jen survive in a predominantly male industry. She agreed that boys seem to get taught a ‘just shut up and do it’ mentality, and attitude that isn’t usually suggested to girls. However, Jen says, “one of the places girls learn this is in sports.”
“Playing sports from a young age has been a major influence on the person I have become,” Jen continued. “It’s where I learned my respect for teamwork, trust, camaraderie, competition, being gracious in both triumph and defeat, and the importance of honoring commitments. I don’t give up when things get hard, and I pick myself up when I fall.”
Although time spent on the fields made her miss out on other activities (like Spring Breaks and ski trips), it was worth it. “I count on my co-workers now the same way I did on my teammates in college. Whether it’s your co-workers, your teammates, or the kids in your little league carpool, you never want to let them down. Being part of a team teaches lessons that can last a lifetime. And a good coach — even the ones who yell a lot — is the gift that keeps on giving,” she said.
So no matter how good you are, all you have to do is try and you’re going to get some benefits from sports you didn’t count on. As Jen said, “I’ve come to realize that “throwing like a girl” is something to be proud of!”
Andy Podolsky lives in Wilmington with his wife and two daughters and writes a regular column for Inside Lacrosse Women about coaching his daughters’ teams, where a version of this piece first ran.