John Jacobs '81, former Executive Vice President at Nasdaq, now retired, is involved in a number of projects including academia, consulting, and board work. With over 30 years of his professional life dedicated to Nasdaq, John created and launched "QQQ," one of the first Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), among the most successful and widely traded financial products to ever hit the market. A visionary leader, he was instrumental in growing the once 80-person company to a globally recognized brand. Retired but not slowing down, he shares his expertise through teaching, upholds a rigorous fitness routine, and most importantly, spends quality time with his family. Having been at the helm of Nasdaq's index business and as one of the most influential trailblazers in the financial world, John's humility, passion, and authenticity is truly inspirational.
At the very beginning of John's three decade long Nasdaq journey, he served as a qualifications analyst, reviewing the financial statements of public companies. As a graduate of the University of Maryland's accounting program, John had a solid education foundation. His accounting classes prepared him to be technically proficient, his marketing classes taught him to think about problems differently, and his finance classes tied it altogether and helped him understand the flow of business. John knew his way around financial statements, and was thoroughly prepared for the job. John remarks, "if you graduated from Maryland's business school, you could compete with anyone, but you had to be proactive to earn success."
There are numerous opportunities and career growth when moving both horizontally and vertically in a company. There were times in John's career where he had to make a decision about whether to make a lateral move, or climb the next rung on the corporate ladder. In most cases, taking the lateral job allowed him to be fluent in a variety of disciplines and opened doors to new possibilities. John explains, an upward trajectory and horizontal growth are not mutually exclusive and can complement each other very well. Early on, he learned to focus on the job and not the money, "it's about the opportunity itself, if you keep looking at it that way, you will acquire invaluable skills and expand your horizon. Money will take care of itself over time."
A mentor to many, John attributes his career success in part with having mentors along the way to help navigate his journey. He emphasized the importance of seeking out the opinions of others, and asking for constructive feedback to highlight problems and create a plan to improve or resolve it. It's okay to mistakes as long as you figure out what went wrong, and vow to do better next time. One of the biggest takeaways from John's career was that he learned not to reinvent the wheel. You are faced with a multitude of problems during your career, and while the problem may be different, the nature of the challenge is the same. Ask people for advice; it will provide perspective and an idea of how to approach and solve the problem. John also encourages leveraging Smith's alumni network to reach out to people for connections, and by the same token, pay it forward. Always look for ways to add value - it goes a long way.
In the workplace, we are trained to be analytical and to problem-solve. This is an extremely valuable skill to have, but the flip side is that possibilities are confined to carefully calculated outcomes. "The best ideas are the ones where you don't limit yourself to why you can't do it." Your path will continue to pivot, but as long as you stay the course, and remain flexible yet steadfast, you won't end up too far from your goal. For John, being a fearless Terp means you need to have an idea of where you want to be and find a way to get there. Know that there will be some sort of disruption, but keep at it because perseverance pays off. Be prepared for opportunities to surface at the most unusual times so that you turn them into successful outcomes.