Nasdaq’s Friedman: My Long-Term Goal is to be a CEO of a Great Company

Adena Friedman, Nasdaq’s (NASDAQ:NDAQ) president in charge of overseeing the company’s strategy and operations, is perhaps best known for her dedication to her company and career. After all, that loyalty is what’s fueled speculation about what happens once CEO Bob Greifeld makes the decision to leave his post at the financial services company.

In May 2014, Nasdaq announced Friedman had resigned from her position as chief financial officer of private-equity giant Carlyle Group (NASDAQ:CG). She’d come into the role after leaving Nasdaq, where she’d spent 18 years climbing the ranks from intern to CFO.

Who is Adena Friedman: An In-Depth Look at Nasdaq's President 

Since that move, insiders have widely speculated that Friedman’s decision to come back to the company is a sign she is next in line for the CEO spot. And it’s an idea she hasn’t dismissed outright. In fact, she told it’s a title that’s been on her long-term career horizon.

“Regardless of what might or might not happen at Nasdaq, it’s more about what’s my long-term ambition. And my long-term ambition is to be a CEO,” she explained. “But my view on that is that it can’t be the CEO of just any company. To be the best CEO you can be you have to be passionate about the business you’re running. And I have true passion for the financial markets and the financial industry.”

The Question of Succession

Greifeld has been the long-time chief executive of Nasdaq OMX Group. He’s served at the top of the company since 2003, helping shepherd the operator of the Nasdaq Stock Market into a new era as a global technology firm, operating just one equity market to now owning and operating 26 markets across the U.S. and Europe.

At the time of Friedman’s appointment to her post, Greifeld told the Wall Street Journal his contract represented a “commitment to the board,” but would not comment further. His contract expires February 2017.

Friedman, who served essentially two “terms” as CFO – one at Nasdaq, and one more at Carlyle before returning to the exchange – said the experience she gained during those years helped set her up for a role down the line leading a top financial-services firm. More importantly, she said it’s the “financial discipline” she learned in the process that has become, in her eyes, an essential piece of any CEO’s profile puzzle.

“As a CFO, we are the face of the company to the investing public and I had an opportunity to develop good relationships with investors who invested in both Nasdaq and Carlyle, to see the world from their point of view, and see what they care about translate very well to understanding as a business owner, you have to make sure you’re planning for the long-term, but you do still need to have the financial discipline and the ability to explain your business to the public,” she explained.

She also addressed what fueled her decision to come back to Nasdaq after leaving the company for Carlyle. To her, the move to private equity, and the subsequent decision was  personal– one that allowed her to be back in Washington D.C. with her family, and then come back to New York once her children moved on to high school and college. To the public – and investors – the reason was to gain outside experience, and as many speculate, allow her to negotiate a kind of assurance that she’d be next in line for the top job.

“I’ve always been on the business side – running P&L and working with clients,” she said. “I have to say, after five years of being CFO, I really missed being on the client side of things and I really missed the pressure and the excitement of having that P&L responsibility. So when Nasdaq called and asked if I could take over as president of a large part of the business, it was such a huge opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”