Now retired in Bradenton, former New York Stock Exchange president discusses career

jsalman@bradenton.comApril 16, 2012 

Editor's Note: This is the first in an occasional series of interviews with retired executives of U.S. companies who now reside in the Bradenton/Sarasota area.

MANATEE -- Bill Johnston had only two jobs in his entire 40-plus year career, working on each side of Wall Street.

The bulk of his business background included management roles with specialty market firms, before closing his career as president and chief operating officer for the New York Stock Exchange, coordinating its entire trading system.

Now retired in Bradenton, the 72-year-old executive remains involved in the community through a slew of nonprofits, including New College in Sarasota, where he sits on the Board of Trustees.

With a father who traded on Wall Street, stocks and bonds were in Johnston's blood from an early age, and that passion stayed throughout his career.

After graduating from Washington and Lee University, Johnston joined the Army then went right to work for financial firms, climbing up the ranks.

Johnston discussed his career success, retirement in Bradenton and volunteer work during an exclusive interview with the Herald.

Q: How did you get involved in the financial industry?

A: My father was in the business, albeit he didn't do exactly what I did. He was my introduction, along with a number of friends. I worked at The Exchange part-time while I was in school. The conversations around the dinner table when I was a child were stocks and bonds.

Q: How did you get started and what type of firms did you work for?

A: The firms before The Exchange were all market-making firms, which in these days are called specialists like Goldman Sachs. Stocks were handed out like franchises, and of course you wanted more stocks and more active stocks ... I worked up the ranks in terms of seniority and ran and was elected to various offices The Exchange had in regulatory positions.

In 1995, I became vice chairman of the board of the New York Stock Exchange and in June 1996, I came off the floor to become president.

Q: What are your typical duties as president of the New York Stock Exchange?

A: When you're president, you have a whole batch of constituents. There's no stock exchange if there's no listed companies; you also have the financial institutions, brokers and dealers, and the floor community. You're constantly working to get all of these constituents happy as any good business tries to do. You want to keep your customers eager to trade on the stock exchange.

With companies, you wanted to make sure they

were happy with the market. It was a lot of basic talking to customers, understanding their needs, keeping them happy, and selling companies to transition from NASDAQ to the stock exchange. The last piece was the regulatory side, I spent a lot of time with lawyers and regulators.

Q: Why did you decide to retire in Bradenton?

A: I have been coming to the Sarasota area for close to 40 years. I had five family members retire and die there. Mom and Dad retired there, and both had some illness problems at the end of their life, so I came down more frequently. We started renting a place on Anna Maria in the winter of 2004, and we bought a house in 2008 in Bradenton, so I have been a Florida resident basically since then.

Q: Why have you stayed so involved?

A: My wife and I made a conscious decision when I retired, it was time to give back. I definitely enjoy that. The reason I love it so much is because young people keep people my age young. They challenge us.

Q: What do you do when you're not volunteering?

A: I read. I read vociferously. Everything from business journals to fiction. I read a lot of fiction ... It's not the most educational stuff in the world, but I do read some more intellectual material as well.

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman

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