Illinois Tech’s (IIT) biennial Tech-X awards dinner last night honored a well-known industry pioneer and icon, former CME Chairman Jack Sandner, and a relative newcomer, Hazem Dawani, chief executive officer of Predata, a predictive analytics platform. The dinner was held in the Chicago Board of Trade building in the former trading floor built in the Annex in 1981 and now leased by Skylight Studios, an event space company. The room is more than 30,000 square feet with 40 foot ceilings and the Big Board is still up there, glowing red, green and gold.
The focus was on Chicago as a tech hub, and of course on the role Illinois Tech and its graduates have played in making it so. Hazem Dawani, an IIT graduate in computer engineering, was part of the first class of Leadership Academy grads and was named an outstanding alumnus in 2013. He founded OptionsCity along with Victor Glava, in 2006. Dawani was presented with the Emerging Leader Award.
He spoke about the important role IIT played in his career and how he learned both engineering and “soft skills” there. IIT also helped him build his first business lab. Dawani also learned options trading on the floor where the event was held.
Dawani is now working on data analytics. He said it is possible to identify trading patterns based on online human behavior as well as to assess geopolitical and macro risks using analytics.
“Electronification was already happening when we started,” he said. “It evolved and became all about speed…and now speed is in the past and it’s all about data.”
Dawani and Jack Sandner have a connection, as Sandner introduced Dawani to his first investor.
Sandner, who was honored with the Tech-X Award, said the room was “foreign territory” to him, since he was a Chicago Merc rather than a CBOT guy. “I’ve been on this floor maybe three times,” he said. “And I felt like I was trespassing.”
He said his number one piece of advice when he spoke to students was that “crisis happens…it’s how you respond that matters.” The Merc weathered many crises, including the Hunt Brothers gold, silver, and cattle manipulation, the 1987 stock market crash, and others.
But the biggest change Sandner saw at the CME was of course the evolution from open outcry to electronic trading. He said the key to the CME’s success in this was that it was a step by step process in which the exchange juxtaposed electric trading next to open outcry rather than just shut it down, allowing traders to transition slowly.
When asked how to prepare the next generation of fintech leaders, Sandner said, “Go to IIT.”
Dawani said collaboration and building strong relationships was key in keeping talented graduates here in Chicago.
The evening raised more than $525,000 to benefit Illinois Tech’s Active Computational Thinking Center. John Lothian News and Crain’s were the media sponsors.