10 Most Important People In ETFs

March 11, 2015

Jim Ross can teach us a little something about perseverance, if not about impeccable timing.

James Ross

More than 22 years in the ETF business, Ross was there when the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY | A-99) first came to market, joining the team that helped the American Stock Exchange (Amex)—then a client of State Street—just a few months before the first-ever ETF in the world made its humble debut. Talk about timing.

It all began when he joined State Street in the summer of 1992, taking a job known as "fund administration" involving compliance and financial reporting of mutual funds. As he puts it, it wasn't "the most exciting job" because that business group was new, and, truthfully, not all that busy.

That's when opportunity came knocking. Ross was asked to help with SPY two months before launch.

"State Street at the time was the asset manager on SPY, so it did things like index rebalance, and all servicing," Ross said of the early days. "We saw the Amex as our client. This wasn't a business for us. We were in the servicing of ETFs."

Fast-forward to the early 2000s: State Street decided to be in the business of ETFs, and Ross was one of the first people to join the team. State Street's "phase 2.0" was underway.

The next several years saw the expansion of the product lineup and the creation of a small distribution network, but all without a clear branding message.

In 2004, came another milestone: the partnership with the World Gold Council and the birth of a blockbuster, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD | A-100). Welcome to State Street's "phase 3.0."

"GLD was a huge success, but with that came the concern on how to rebrand," Ross says. "We had to decide who we wanted to be when we grew up."

Over the next few years, the firm went on to rebrand all products to be a cohesive lineup of ETFs, and it also entered the international arena for the first time both in the equity and in the fixed-income segments.

The company is now embarking on "phase 4.0," launching some 20 ETFs in 2014 and increasing marketing and distribution.

"I love the fact that everyone pays the same price in an ETF and has the ability to use the same product," Ross said. "The ETF structure treats all shareholders equally, and it helps to build well-constructed portfolios. That's the nirvana of this business."

 

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