Peter Harrigan is the co-founder and current CEO of Grey Swan Digital, a company that creates and trades customized derivatives. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s he wanted to become an astronaut. His career path later rocketed in a different direction, taking him to Chicago’s trading floors.
In a two-part interview with John Lothian for the Open Outcry Traders History Project, Harrigan said he learned about futures in college when he and some friends began trading one stock index figure against another in an arbitrage strategy. One of those friends went on to have a successful career at Credit Suisse and another went back to his family’s manufacturing business, he said.
Eventually, Harrigan ended up on the trading floor as a clerk working for Susquehanna in the ’90s, an experience that helped him learn to trade options. Along the way, he leased a seat at the CME and the Pacific Stock Exchange.
At the time, the CME had an inexpensive permit program — about $6,000 for the year, he recalled, but it limited what could be traded, allowing trading in only minor contracts like the Australian dollar and lumber. He moved on to trade at the IOM (the CME’s Index and Options Market), and for a while on the Pacific Coast.
“A couple of decades of getting up at four in the morning (to trade on the West Coast)… I think that does have an effect on you. I think I am almost fully recovered now,” Harrigan said.
He added that his family “was not a Chicago family, so they didn’t get coming to the trading floor. My grandmother said, ‘I just wished you worked at Sears so I understood what you did.’”
However, having “an extremely understanding wife who put up with my ups and downs” helped, Harrigan said. When he had his first daughter, “it made me realize I had to be more serious. People were dependent on me,” he said. “If I had to do it again, I would have gone to the floor sooner. I went in 1993, and I should have gone in 1986-87. It was a great experience and offered more opportunities.
He recounted a favorite memory trading in the Swiss franc options pit, which included jumping up on the side of the pit and yelling at the broker to get his attention in a frantic market. “Very physical, very fun. Those were exciting times.”
“Walking onto the floor, there was incredible excitement. You could smell the opportunities.”
There also was a large period when nothing was happening, and the “edge” got harder to find as things got more competitive, but you had to be patient, he said.
There were bad days, too, “but my worst day on the trading floor was the day I left,” Harrigan said. “Finally throwing in the towel, that was a bad day.”