A career of opportunities seized and change made

After taking a step back, Jos Schmitt reflects on his career so far and the changes he brought to Canadian capital markets

A career of opportunities seized and change made

Jos Schmitt was a CEO at age 28. Working in Brussels for Arthur Andersen Consulting — the firm that would become Accenture — he was assigned to a project electrifying the Brussels stock exchange. When his project was done, he told the chair of the board of the exchange that he loved the business, and he was ready to play a key role in it. Schmitt was given the strategy and operations portfolios.

In that role he established a Brussels derivatives exchange and clearing house. That exchange was looking for a CEO and Schmitt leapt at the opportunity. He was 28 years old and had his first job leading a securities exchange.

It would not be his last. Schmitt is best known in Canada as the President & CEO of the NEO Exchange (called CBOE Canada since 2022). Prior to that he was CEO of the Alpha exchange. In late November 2023 Schmitt announced he was stepping back from his leadership role at CBOE to focus on his family and his philanthropic endeavours.

Schmitt has by no means walked away from capital markets altogether, but as he begins a period that he prefers to call “rewirement” he is reflecting on the changes he made in his career. He believes that he made those changes because he could see and seize opportunities as they came — just as he did with his first CEO role back in Brussels.

Opportunity and execution

“I think that life is full of opportunities, but a lot of people don't see them. Even more, I would say, a lot of people don't have the confidence and the risk appetite to go after them,” Schmitt says. “I would not say that back when I started my career I planned it all out. But I was always very curious, I was always very interested, and I was always observing. When I saw an interesting opportunity come by, I would go after it.”

It was one of those opportunities that brought Schmitt to Canada. He was a founding partner at Capco — a Belgian consultancy firm — and came over to Canada to work with one of the banks, completing a transformation of their global markets business. The project was meant to last 18 months, but Schmitt saw opportunities in the Canadian market and convinced Capco to open an office here.

While he led Capco’s expansion in Canada and, eventually, the United States, Schmitt was approached by a group asking if he would work with them on a new alternative trading system in Canada that could offer some real competition to the TSX. That would become the Alpha exchange, which launched in 2008 with Schmitt as CEO.

Seizing those opportunities, Schmitt says, required work ethic and confidence on his part. It required collaboration, too. Schmitt attributes much of his success to the teams he built around him. He values teams with diversity of experience and opinion, capable of sharing different perspectives. Those teams, he says, will have a better understanding of the entire customer base. They will notice opportunities and they will find the right way to execute on them.

Schmitt led the Alpha exchange until 2012, when it was acquired by the Maple Group along with the TSX and turned into what is now the TMX group. A few days after he left he was contacted by a different bank, alarmed that there was no real exchange competition left in Canada.

That bank asked Schmitt if he wanted to set up a new alternative trading system and offered him a blank sheet of paper to develop what he thought Canada needed. Schmitt used that white paper to design a full-fledged stock exchange, it would become NEO.

Making changes in Canadian Capital Markets

NEO began with a focus on innovation and quality execution. It launched at the same time that high frequency trading strategies were wreaking havoc on markets. Schmitt and his team had to tackle those trends while focused on quality of execution, capital formation, and service to investors. They had doubters at the start working in a Canadian ecosystem that has sometimes shown itself to resist change.

“I think there’s a reluctance to change that is inherent to the Canadian environment,” Schmitt says. “That doesn’t mean everyone is like that, otherwise we would not have done the things we have with Alpha and with NEO and what the team is doing now with CBOE. But I think there’s a tendency to say ‘things are working fine, let’s just continue.’ But you can’t just continue because the world is continuously evolving, needs are evolving, and if we don’t make sure that we provide top quality capital markets here in Canada, that’s detrimental to companies, the economy, to labour, to wealth generation. Everything that is of quality: people, resources, companies, will move to the US.” 

Through NEO Schmitt tackled that resistance to change as well as many of the structural issues he saw on Canadian capital markets. That included a push for integrated market data. Where in the US the Securities Information Processor consolidates data from across US markets, Canadian investors and advisors are unable to access consolidated data from Canadian exchanges. It’s a battle that, in Schmitt’s eyes, is not yet won.

Schmitt and NEO have their share of wins, though. NEO hosted the launch of Canadian Depositary Receipts (CDRs), which enable Canadians to hold and trade shares of global companies on a Canadian exchange in Canadian dollars. As a competitor to the TMX, Schmitt believes NEO made the corporate listing and ETF listing business more service oriented.

In NEO’s acquisition by CBOE Global Markets, Schmitt sees the beginnings of a global vision for exchanges taking shape. CBOE, he says, shares his goal of a globally integrated exchange wherein companies can tap into capital and investment from around the world seamlessly.     

There are still challenges ahead and issues to address, Schmitt says, but the work done at NEO that is continuing under the CBOE banner gives him hope for continued innovation within Canadian capital markets.

What’s next for Jos Schmitt

Siezing opportunities and pushing for change took a lot of work on Schmitt’s part. He describes himself as having worked “relentlessly” for so much of his career. His recent step back from leadership at CBOE Canada, he says, gives him more time to focus on family and friends.

That doesn’t mean Schmitt is out of the game. He is heavily involved with philanthropic work and advocacy, including a nonprofit called the Prosperity Project which advocates for greater gender diversity in Canadian workplaces. He is also involved with Bay St. Rides for Autism. Schmitt’s wife is involved with a few business opportunities both in Canada and Europe, which Schmitt says he is excited to support her in. He’s also planning a motorcycle trip, riding the Western leg of the Silk Road from Venice to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Even as he steps back, Schmitt plans to keep his eyes open. As much as he loves to read, he says he isn’t the kind of person to spend the rest of his life reading. If another opportunity arises, one where he thinks he can make an impact, Schmitt will be ready.

“Opportunities come up,” Schmitt says. “It has to be something where I think I can have a real impact. I know they’re out there, though, I’ll just take a little bit of time to sit back, look, and come up with some ideas.”