21 Feb Amy Shelly: New CFO Talks Teamwork, Transformative Growth and Opportunities for Women at OCC
“If given the opportunity, I would tell my younger self not to be afraid to face challenges or take on additional responsibilities,” said Amy Shelly, Chief Financial Officer at OCC (Options Clearing Corporation). “I think that we forget to tell each other that it is okay to ask for help. We come to this conclusion that we should be able to do everything on our own but we will never get far with the solo act mentality. It’s a team environment. Not only in your department but within your organization and there is nothing wrong with asking for help.”
Shelly joined OCC in December of 2016 after an extensive career in accounting and finance at Hull Trading, Goldman Sachs, ABN Amro and Optiver. We sat down to talk about how her team-player mentality has been shaped by participating in triathlons, how her time at Hull Trading helped her prepare for OCC’s transformative growth and how her new employer is a great place for women to pursue career opportunities.
Personal and Professional Preparations
Shelly received a degree in accounting and finance from St. Mary’s College in Indiana. She says that as a student she was always athletic.
“I played basketball and softball in school but didn’t start running marathons until the late 1990’s,” she said. “At the suggestion of a friend, I started participating in triathlons.”
She is currently training for the Ironman Chattanooga in September.
“In sports, you can’t succeed with the lone soldier mentality and I believe you learn to work with a variety of personalities similar to an office environment,” she said. “In sports, just like in business, you win or you lose as a team.”
She also believes playing sports has helped her with time management.
“In this role, I need to be efficient with my time. When I come into the office, the first thing I do is look at my schedule and see what meetings I have planned as well as the free time I have,” she said. “Managing my time is very important in this role.”
One of the various meetings Shelly sits in on is with the OCC Management Committee.
“One not so obvious skill CFOs need is to understand the goals and strategies of the people around them,” said Shelly. “I work with the CEO, the CIO and the General Counsel to help best move the company as well as the derivatives industry forward. I need to understand each of their aspirations as well as how my team can help drive that goal to completion.”
With the need to comprehend the big picture as well as where she fits in, Shelly credits a project she worked on at Hull Trading that helped her prepare for this position.
“One of the things that stands out more from a strategic perspective was when I was a senior accountant at Hull Trading and they were preparing to go public,” she said. “It was a bit of a culture shock because we went from a very relaxed environment to a rigorous one.”
Shelly was responsible for international accounting and worked with their offices in London, Frankfurt, Sydney and Hong Kong.
“Before we had a chance to attract investors, Goldman Sachs approached the company with an offer the owners couldn’t refuse,” she said. “After the acquisition, I had to help incorporate the two accounting teams and transition to Goldman’s policies and procedures.”
She essentially had to replace one company’s operations with another firm’s operations.
“This was certainly the most transformational experience I’ve ever had and I’ve taken this with me into the next few companies I’ve worked for,” she said. “It gave me a unique perspective on how to take a smaller company and help build it into a larger one.”
OCC’s Metamorphic Growth
Her experience at Hull Trading is also helping Shelly as OCC evolves from a market utility to an industry influencer.
Since 2015, OCC’s growth has caused them to re-think their offices to reflect the new organization. With a project management perspective, Shelly is working on build-outs of the two offices in Chicago and outside of Dallas, Texas. She liaises with different vendors and architects to make sure the space design promotes an open and collaborative environment.
“We are moving offices in both locations and building areas to better reflect the culture here,” said Shelly. “For example, the new floor plans will include lower walls and glass conferences rooms.”
Chicago will be moving into their new offices in mid-2018 while the Dallas location, where the bulk of the organization’s technology is centered, plans to move sometime this summer.
“I am still learning about the culture here and how internally things work but we are a collaborative organization,” she said. “What I would have told my younger self about not being afraid to take on extra work or asking for help, I see here at OCC.”
Developing Female Staff
“Women are stretching themselves and working together to move the company forward,” said Shelly. “There are a lot of intelligent women at OCC and I think this organization does a good job of helping them progress in their careers.”
One of the women Shelly is referring to is Karen Bilek, who started as a summer intern in 1996. She joined the firm in Collateral Services in 1999, transferred to the Corporate Actions team and was promoted to Analyst. After passing the bar, she worked her way up to the Legal Team and is now Vice President and Counsel.
Another woman who has found a successful career trajectory at OCC is Denise Knabjian, who started at the company in 1997 as an entry-level specialist in Collateral Services and currently serves as Vice President of Internet Services.
Also, Shelly is one of three women on the 14-member Management Committee at OCC, including Jean Cawley, Senior Vice President and Special Advisor to the Chairman, and Tracy Raben, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer.
While there is room for improvement, OCC has made great strides in a short amount of time. With about 560 employees in offices in Chicago and Texas, the staff currently is made up of 71% men and 29% women.
It’s also important to note that OCC has always been a Women In Listed Derivatives (WILD) supporter and is currently a 2017 Platinum Sponsor. WILD is a not for profit group in the derivatives space that helps women advance professionally and personally.
One of the reasons OCC has made gender diversity a priority is because it comes from the top level of management.
Shelly noted, “Craig Donohue, OCC’s Executive Chairman and CEO, looks at it as to how he can make an influence today and how we as an industry, or organization, can make it so it is not a sacrifice as a woman to take time to raise a family. I think he looks at it as redefining the work life balance.”
OCC, the world’s largest equity derivatives clearing organization, works within the very complicated derivatives space and is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission in addition to oversight from the Federal Stability Oversight Council in OCC’s role as a Systemically Important Financial Market Utility. Amy Shelly believes that her part of the organization should be simple, controlled and efficient. Working with her team, they ensure the right procedures are in place, everyone understands the goals of the organization and that no one is afraid to ask for help if they need.
“I love my job and am thrilled to be here. The people that I have worked with thus far are intelligent and solid in their jobs,” she said. “I believe I will continue to be impressed with the people here and the opportunities OCC affords its employees.”