Mary Ann Burns is leaving the Futures Industry Association and the industry. That was the shocking news we heard a little over a week ago. After 23 years at the FIA, and 30 years developing the program for FIA Expo, this Terre Haute, IN native is moving on to an even craftier career.

Burns’ thirst for the next phase of her career has her leaving the FIA to help run a family-owned craft beer brewery – her family’s. Her son and husband started Old Ox Brewery several years ago. It is named for a picturesque road in Northern Virginia where oxen were used to pull goods to the river for sale.

She says the craft brewery space is very similar to the futures industry in the 1980s and 1990s, with lots of collaboration. In fact, she said that was her favorite part of the futures industry.  “This has been the most amazing thing for me, the collaboration among the community,” she told me in a phone interview. “Everybody working together is what makes it special.”

She has been not just a witness to so much history since she joined this industry after graduating from Purdue University in 1972 with a degree in journalism – she has also been an active participant. (We share that common Purdue and journalism degree background).

Her first job at a newspaper in Vincennes, IN lasted for six weeks or so. There was not much happening in Vincennes, so she moved back to Lafayette and worked for a department store writing advertising copy.

When she married a Chicago native, she moved with her husband to Chicago and continued writing ad copy, this time for the home furnishings division of the famed Chicago department store Carson Pirie Scott.

But like a bug attracted to the light, she found herself spending her lunchtimes hanging out at the Chicago Board of Trade mesmerized by the activity on the trading floor. A friend helped her get a job with Heinold on the CME trading floor at the then Union Station-located facility. She worked open orders in the early morning, running orders when the market was open, and was done by 1 pm so she could go to work at Carson’s in the afternoon.

The CME Burns knew back then was dominated by the cattle, hog and pork belly pits. The IMM was just gaining traction, but would soon grow along with her career.

She moved from the floor to the research department, but then her first son was born early and she had to quit her job at Heinold.  She continued to freelance for Carson’s and joined an advertising agency. At one time the four Chicago Hilton hotels were clients of hers.

When she went back to work in the futures industry, it was with Archer Commodities, which was a subsidiary of Heinold run by a twenty-something-year-old Frank Franiak. She worked in marketing, placing ads and even starting an agency relationship with the Wall Street Journal to save the commissions normally paid middlemen.

When Heinold absorbed Archer, she started her own company, Burns & Company. Her clients included futures firms, but also some outside the industry. She had the MidAmerica Commodity Exchange, Saul Stone, Anspacher, and Wills Jenkins as clients at Burns & Co.

It was a Billy O’Connor back-office firm that hired her to help them with the first FIA Expo held on the upper trading floor of the CME. She later did some work for Northern Trust and when the FIA moved the location of the Expo to the Holiday Inn in the Mart Plaza hotel, Dave Ganis, the chairman of the event and head of Northern Trust futures business recommended that the FIA hire her to help develop the program.

She continued to help develop the program for the next thirty years. In those early years many of the sessions that were most popular were those focused on making money in the markets, including some by Peter Steidlmeyer. She remembers Steve Jobs showing up for one of those early Expos to be a keynote speaker.

Burns kept developing the Expo program for FIA and took a bigger role with them when they lost their magazine editor in 1989. They asked her to take it on as a temporary solution for their December edition, but they liked her work so much that she continued to publish the magazine. In 1993, when the FIA lost their head of communications, they hired Burns full-time and she moved the family to Washington, DC.

“Mary Ann was the best hire I ever made,” said former FIA President John Damgard in a phone interview.

She continued to edit the FIA magazine until a former Commodity News Service colleague of mine came along to take it over. Will Acworth has been the editor since.

When she was hired at FIA there were maybe 10 people. Today at FIA Global there are about 60 globally post-merger. She was a one-person department for marketing, publications, public relations and program planning for conferences when she moved to DC. Today, she has people doing the functions she used to handle in her one-person department, but she kept her hand in those areas.

“Working for a trade association can be more of a vocation than a job and certainly Mary Ann’s contribution has been far more than any job description would call for – I’m thinking of all the conferences, FIA Tech (eGAINS, EGUS and eRECS), the work she did to allow us to finally bring FIA together with FOA (quite a lengthy journey, for sure!) and countless other projects,” said former FIA Chairman Richard Berliand by email interview.

It was not until John Damgard left as FIA President that she was given the title of chief operating officer. This was not a promotion with new responsibilities, but rather a recognition of everything she was doing.

“No one fully appreciates what she sits down and accomplishes for this industry,” Damgard said. “She quietly gets everything done. It will be a real challenge to replace her,” he said.

Her biggest challenges at FIA were those unpredictable events that faced the industry, she said, like 9/11 and MF Global. But that was when the industry came together and collaborated, and Burns worked the hardest. “This industry has an amazing ability to work together to overcome events such as these,” she told me.

“Mary Ann may be one of the most innovative, influential, yet selfless people in our industry.  Never demanding credit, she drove countless solutions and innovations over the years by allowing other stakeholders to share in the success. That is the mark of a true leader. She leaves an indelible mark on our industry and I will truly miss her,”  – Walt Lukken, FIA Global CEO.

She was also involved in key events that could have been disasters, but that you could see coming. She worked on Y2K and the Euro conversion.

Burns’ worst day at FIA was when her communications assistant, Gini Orange, didn’t show up for work on September 25, 2008. It turned out that she had been brutally murdered in her apartment. Orange had worked with the divisions and speakers at the FIA conference programs, so she was known to many of the FIA members. Burns said Orange’s family was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the FIA community. Messages, flowers and donations came in from Chicago, New York and places even further away from Roanoke, VA where Orange grew up. Even the then acting chairman of the CFTC, Walt Lukken, attended her memorial service.

“This was “another example of the support our industry delivers in tough times,” Burns said.

Burns is most proud of her work to help create FIA Tech, a for-profit company created within FIA to help the industry face common issues, including initially give-ups. FIA Tech would also take on account ownership and control data shared with the CFTC and brokerage settlements. Creating a technology company at a financial industry organization is not bad for a journalism major.

“FIA Tech was her concept, her idea and she built it,” Damgard said. “She replaced a lot of expensive vendors for the industry and the FIA got the credit for it and are the sole owners of it.”

Her colleague Will Acworth said, “one thing that’s always impressed me about Mary Ann is her willingness to take a risk and try something new. I can’t tell you how many times she came into the office on Monday morning and said, hey, I’ve got a great idea for a big new project.  And we would scratch our heads and wonder, can we really do that?  Well, the answer turned out to be yes time and time again.”

As she helped drive the program of FIA conferences, she enjoyed interacting with the speakers and the steering committees and helping to develop the topics. She said she recently enjoyed Boca speaker Condoleeza Rice for her down-to-earth manner.

Burns told me she always thought she would move back to Chicago after her FIA days were done, but with a brick and mortar brewery she is not leaving the DC area. She remains a Chicago Cubs and Bears fan despite the fact that Old Ox is one of six craft beers sold at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. They produce a different beer for each homestand.

“She has had much to do with the extraordinary rise in FIA’s profile and impact ever since the mid-90s and we will miss her as she heads into the next chapter of her life,” Berliand said.

There are eight to ten Old Ox beers being produced at any time, but they will also make some short-run recipes. All the beer is sold in cans or in kegs. They will will also sell it in a growler, which is a multi-use container. A six-pack costs $10.99.

The Old Ox brewery is located near several other breweries, giving beer lovers the chance to visit several craft breweries on the same day.

The makers of Red Bull energy drink took exception to the name/trademark of Old Ox and sent a cease and desist. Burns’ son sent them a well thought out letter and posted it to Facebook. Of course, that letter went viral, and their cause attracted the attention of a law firm, Wiley Rein, which represented them through the whole successful process pro bono. The whole episode got a lot of press play in the Washington area.

Old Ox beer is sold only in Washington, DC and Virginia, although just in Northern Virginia at the moment. There is lot of room for growth in the market, but also at the brewery for more tanks.

The Burnses acquired the original brewing equipment, which can take as much as a year to be  delivered after placing an order, from the Flying Fish Brewery in New Jersey. It took two years to find a location and name and move the equipment out of storage in New Jersey. The equipment survived Hurricane Sandy, much to the relief of Burns and her family.

There are 15 people at Old Ox, including Burns’ oldest son and husband. Another son is a web developer in Boston and a daughter who works for Wells Fargo in futures in North Carolina.

Old Ox, located in Ashburn, VA, held a record-breaking fundraiser for the volunteer fire department there. Such events have helped the brewery really connect with their local community. It is that community that Burns really enjoys.

Damgard said, “Since she switched her talents to the beer industry, both Coors and Budweiser better watch out, because here she comes.”

“It is a great business, the brewing community and the customers are terrific,” she said.  “Every aspect has been very rewarding”

Leaving the FIA and the industry she has known her whole career won’t be easy  “I will miss the people I work with, and the membership will be the thing I will miss the most,” she said. She will work to make the transition for the FIA as smooth as possible and may come in once a week to consult with the new person the FIA hires.

Though she is leaving the FIA on July 1, Burns promises to be at the FIA Operations America baseball game in Chicago between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

Acworth said, “In a way, I’m not surprised that she decided to reinvent herself once again and get into the business of running a brewery. It’s just another example of that willingness to take a risk that embodies the spirit of the futures industry. So the next time you’re watching baseball at Nationals Park, ask for a bottle of Old Ox, and tell ’em Mary Ann sent you.”

You can take the person out of Chicago and the futures industry, but you can’t take the Chicago and the futures industry out of the person, especially as one as crafty as Mary Ann Burns.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This Story