It is rare that any company reaches the milestone that RJ O’Brien has this year – its 100th in business.

Joining the 100-year club says something about a company, and not just about its longevity. It raises the simple question – How did they do it?

Beyond the business cliches about them being innovative, better than their competitors, or having the best talent, RJO has been able to use some really personal values to anchor the firm. Of course, these swing into other cliche categories such as “family,” “everyone pitches in,” and a firm that truly likes and respects its employees and customers.

John Lothian Productions spent eight months working on the full-length video documentary for RJO, which can be seen here.

As the lead producer on the project, what I found was an amazingly open, caring and thoughtful team of people. From Robert O’Brien Sr., now 96, who took over the firm from his father in law JV McCarthy and grew it into one of the largest FCMs in the industry, to his children to Gerry Corcoran, RJO chairman and CEO who has pushed the firm’s technology initiatives and extended its reach globally. It’s a company, like all good ones, built on the staff they’ve built.

“We care when they have a sick child or parent, go home,” said Corcoran. “If you got a play, go to the play or parent teacher conferences. We back our employees.”
That’s in the video. But what isn’t in the documentary is the several takes it took Gerry to get through the question about RJO’s employees. The pride he has in RJO’s team literally brought him to tears. I think that says a lot about who he is as a person and leader.  Many others we met during our interviews and meetings with RJO executives and staff also were anxious to share a story and a laugh. How many workplaces are like that?

Many of these attributes can be traced to Bob O’Brien Sr., who built the business with a mix of hard work and a gentlemanly way that builds the respect and loyalty of everyone, customers and employees. Like any firm, it endured some of the toughest markets in history.

And it is no secret that RJO benefited from the sad fall of MF Global, inheriting a good number of customers in the mad scramble to take care of them after Jon Corzine & Co. destroyed that firm. And while some in the industry may moan about the subsequent mass transfer of accounts as somehow unfair, the fact is most of those customers have had the chance to change brokers but have not done so. RJO now stands among the largest FCMs in the US and in the world. In sports, it is sometimes said, when you’re good, you’re good and lucky.

Beyond a bit of the luck of the Irish, RJO has worked hard to diversify from being an introducing broker’s FCM into a full service firm that offers a broad suite of services to retail and institutional customers. Much of its technology is built and developed in-house. And despite the harsh environment the industry has tried to weather, RJO has grown dramatically into the largest independent futures brokerage, with 500 employees, more than 100,000 client accounts and $4 billion-plus in customer assets. It is well positioned going forward.

For a firm that is built on those values and solid leadership, another 100 years is not just possible, it’s probable.

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