Bill Brodsky Draws on his Legal Training at the Top of the Business World

Meredith Heagney
Law School Office of Communications
December 20, 2012

Business leader Bill Brodsky, Chairman and CEO of CBOE Holdings Inc. and the Chicago Board Options Exchange, spoke at the Law School about how his legal background has helped him get ahead – way ahead – in business.

Brodsky has held his current position since 1997. Before that, he spent 12 years as President and CEO of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), where he oversaw the launch of the CME Globex trading system and took a leading role in the development and globalization of stock index futures. And before that, he was head of options trading and Executive Vice President for operations at the American Stock Exchange. This month, Brodsky announced he would step down as CEO of CBOE in May but remain Executive Chairman.

Before all this, he was a lawyer: Brodsky earned his JD from Syracuse University in 1968 and started his career with a brokerage firm on Wall Street, working in the legal department.

In the early ‘70s, he heard of a new exchange forming in Chicago, with seats for sale for $10,000. He researched the opportunity, filled out the application, took a test, and bought the seat on behalf of his firm. He found the process very interesting, and his wife suggested he write an article about the new exchange, which he did.

That exchange, of course, was the CBOE, and Brodsky used that story as an illustration to students that you never know what’s in store for you: “Who would’ve imagined that 40 years later I’d be the CEO of that exchange?”

He left legal work officially eight years into his career, when he took over operations at the American Stock Exchange. A headhunter from Chicago lured him to CME, which required his expertise to shift from stock options to futures, including agriculture. For a boy who grew up on Long Island, that was new.

Now, at CBOE, he has a job he never imagined, but one he is well prepared for in part because of his legal background.

“Not a day goes by where I don’t draw on my legal training,” he said, pointing out a few of the many areas where the business and legal worlds intersect: antitrust issues, labor relations, class action lawsuits, tax laws, and intellectual property, among others.

“What I learned out of law school more than anything else is how to analyze a situation,” he said. “If I get the facts, I find I’m halfway there…you have to have confidence in yourself that if you apply yourself you can learn anything.”

And, as Brodsky told the students during the November 14 talk, don’t compromise your integrity. It’s your greatest asset in both law and business.

That’s a piece of advice Brodsky has personified in his career and life, said Dean Michael Schill, who introduced the business leader by pointing out that as well known as his accomplishments is his commitment to philanthropy.

Schill said Brodsky is “widely known as the biggest mensch in the city of Chicago.” (“Mensch” is Yiddish for a person of great character and honor.)

“As I go around and tell people I know Bill Brodsky, they think better of me,” Schill said.

Brodsky offered kind words in return, especially for the Law School.

“You guys are coming from one of the top law schools in the country,” he told the students, pointing out that this would afford them extra opportunities.

For example: working for him. Brodsky brought along Art Reinstein, ’91, Deputy General Counsel of CBOE, who said after the speech that his Chicago JD has been invaluable.

“One thing I learned at the University of Chicago Law School is how to analyze issues,” Reinstein said. “I think the emphasis on learning how to spot issues and address issues is the most valuable thing I took away.”

Michael H. Schill