Morgan Stanley

Michael Asmar

Managing Director, Institutional Equity Derivatives Trading


Michael Asmar describes himself as a former “math nerd” who knew he’d never want to be an actual mathematician. “Too theoretical, too dry, not enough fun”, says Asmar, who likes to play games as much as he likes solving equations—everything from poker to chess to backgammon. A career as a doctor was a strong consideration — his parents and siblings all work in the medical field. But, says Asmar, “deep down, I just knew medicine wasn’t my calling.” In college, he pursued several interests without really knowing what career path he would take. At some point he came across the world of finance and felt immediately drawn to it. He landed a summer internship at Morgan Stanley in 2004 and during that experience something clicked. He returned to a full-time job in 2005, and today he is a Managing Director in the Institutional Equity Division overseeing multiple trading desks.

What about your background prepared you for the career you have now?

I went to Stanford, where I pursued a hybrid major that combined math, statistics, computer science, and something that they call Management Science and Engineering, but most schools might call “Operations Research.” It was a custom major that was broad, but not as deep.  And that’s pretty typical for me. I’m intellectually curious about many subjects, and I believe I’m relatively capable of doing a lot of different things. I’m by no means the best at any one of them, but I like to be constantly learning something new.

I was fortunate to meet people on campus who helped me discover the world of finance.  I explored different areas, just like most people do—including Investment Banking, Sales and Trading, and buy side roles—I ended up in Trading, I think, because of my personality. I’m somebody who enjoys the psychology of the markets and considering how other people are thinking about multi-faceted situations. I’m also a very social person—engaging with others and finding connections has always been a source of energy for me. It must be a good fit because I’ve been here for 15 years.

What's your career trajectory been?

My first full-time role was as an equity derivatives trader on the Single Name Options desk, focusing on the healthcare sector. In 2009, I moved to the Index Derivatives desk, initially to manage our dispersion business, which still involved trading options, but with the added complexity of stock correlation. A few years later, I switched focus to grow our presence in two other complex volatility products: variance swaps and options on the increasingly popular VIX, a.k.a. the “fear index.” These more technical roles allowed me to better flex my mathematical strengths. 

Then, in early 2015, I was asked to run the overall Index Derivatives Trading business. I continued to drive revenue and build client relationships, but I also had my first opportunity to manage a team of people, something I have since found to be both wonderfully challenging and deeply fulfilling. Earlier this year, I also assumed oversight of the Exotic Derivatives Trading Desk. In short, I’m now responsible for a couple of our equity derivatives trading businesses.

Why have you decided to stay at Morgan Stanley for so long?

I have experienced enormous growth here, both personally and professionally, and it’s been a steadily fulfilling journey. I can’t look back and find a single year when I wasn’t challenged, or wasn’t interested in what I was doing, or didn’t have a chance to do something new and keep growing.

And why do you think you are where you are today?

I’ll take some responsibility for it, because I do think I worked hard, sought out new opportunities, and found ways to excel in whatever situations I found myself in. But I also give a lot of credit to the firm. My managers took the initiative to actively determine my strengths and what really energized me, and they consistently helped find the next thing that aligned with those strengths and passions. 

You’ve had a lot of mentors along the way. How do you mentor those on your team?

As you gain experience, you also gain mentees with whom you share your knowledge and experience—that is an important part of the evolution here and part of the culture of the firm. It is an environment focused on everyone’s professional growth and development. I am continuously asking myself, “How do I get this person to a place where she is really able to flex her strongest muscles every day and achieve her highest potential?” This, in turn, unlocks the organization’s potential at a larger scale, and we have a collective responsibility to figure out how to achieve that.

There is a highly energized culture of success here. It starts with recruiting smart, enthusiastic, ambitious people, but never stops, as we focus on retaining talent and growing leaders, while continually reviewing and refining the way we make decisions and provide value to clients.

What advice would you give people just starting out?

Throughout my career here, I have always felt confident that I had people behind me and I would be able to figure things out. But it was by no means comfortable the whole time. In fact, there were many periods of discomfort. I actually have a deep appreciation for those times—because that is when I really grew.  I look back and am struck by who I have become through those experiences.

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