Jessica Titlebaum Darmoni - A Unique Voice in Derivatives
“The friends that have known me all my life think it’s crazy that I’ve made a career in the capital markets,” said Jessica Darmoni, my subject in this post. I usually write about women in product as well as entrepreneurial women. Jessica Darmoni falls in the latter category but from an industry we are not accustomed to seeing a lot of women– the niche world of derivatives. We sat down for a one-on-one recently in Chicago.
Darmoni graduated from University of Maryland in College Park and spent a year teaching in Thailand. After returning home to Chicago, she waitressed until a financial technology-consulting firm found her resume on monster.com for a sales and marketing role. She got the job even though she didn’t have a strong finance background (in fact, she had to repeat a course in college to pass Math).
As a sales and marketing assistant, she attended a securities conference in New York where she met Nicki Gilmour, publisher of the The Glass Hammer. Nicki eventually hired her as a freelance writer to cover Chicago conferences and write about successful women in professional industries. On the derivatives front, she was getting up to speed by reading the daily John Lothian newsletter. She also attended an event at which John Lothian spoke, wrote a piece about him for The Glass Hammer and got his attention when she forwarded the article she wrote to him. She says she is a writer at heart and decided to learn more about how Lothian was using his journalism degree in the derivatives field.
Learning the derivatives eco-system with Lothian as her mentor, eventually convinced him to offer her a job at his company. Her advice: “Find someone who has the job you want, ask them questions, and establish a relationship with them.” She went back to school and got her Master’s in Journalism from Roosevelt University.
Before working 10 years in the industry, Darmoni co-founded Women in Listed Derivatives (WILD) a not-for-profit organization that helps women advance in the listed and OTC derivatives space.. “I learned so much from WILD – but most important, if you feel stuck and want to advance your career, get involved with an industry initiative.”
After a few more years of working in the industry and writing on the side, Jessica wanted a new challenge. She thought about starting a networking company to connect people for business development purposes, Darmoni started her company The Title Connection in 2016.
What is one of her passions? She is trying to get more students interested in the derivatives space. Just like Google and Facebook, the derivatives industry is looking for talent – engineers and developers. “This industry gets overlooked by the big tech companies but we can provide unique opportunities to students as well.”
In terms of challenges, I asked her what she continually faces. She replied that there was no dearth of accomplished women in a male-dominated field but the challenge is “getting women to talk about themselves. Women in general shy away from the spotlight even if the work they do is crucial and significant.”
Have women expressed interest in derivatives? She says there are only a handful of female role models.
On the personal front, she struggles to balance work and home even if she says she dislikes the term “balance. I’ve stopped feeling guilty when I disconnect to spend time with my family or when I close the door and focus on work.”
What does she want to do next? She wants to grow her business, Jessica says, but it’s a scary thought – to hire someone and essentially be responsible for their livelihood. But there is an altruistic motive too – she wants to teach someone the derivatives business. “I’ve built a career from scratch in the derivatives space. It’s been a wild ride, no pun intended, but I’ve enjoyed it. I would like to teach others what I’ve learned, if they think it’s for them.”
What keeps her motivated? “I really wanted to change the world. People say it’s politicians but it’s really journalists who have that type of influence. They communicate the story. Also, having experienced trouble with math, it’s fitting for me to build a career in finance.
Does she need math in her work now? She guest-hosts an online trading show at the Chicago Board Options Exchange for which she needs to have a facility with Math.
Any parting thoughts, I asked Jessica. “Build a network that supports you, and you support them. Talk about your accomplishments, self-promote and most important, don’t let your weaknesses hold you back.”