“I’m just a 25-year-old girl who has this kind of cool life,” Lauren Simmons laughs, “I’m just taking it day by day and enjoying the whole process.” Her laugh is bright and infectious even through the crackle of my phone. Simmons, however, is not just any other 25-year-old woman. She is bold and fearless. She seizes opportunities and takes risks. At only 23 years old, Simmons became the youngest trader to ever walk the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She also became one of the few African American women to do so. Today, Simmons is a motivational speaker, personal finance expert, and has been featured in campaigns for Express, Ford Motor Company, and Invisalign. Not only will she be an executive producer on her biopic coming out this upcoming summer, she is also the creator, writer, producer, and host of her TV show centered around personal finance geared towards Gen Z and younger millennials that will be coming out on a major TV network later this year. We had the opportunity to speak to Lauren about her journey into finance, her experiences on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and all the exciting things lying ahead of her in our 16th issue.
What did you dream of doing growing up? Was finance always of interest to you?
I went to [college] for genetics but, prior to college when I was just going through K-12, I had a fascination for architectural engineering, with a concentration in building homes and designing. So that’s what I thought I would be doing, but life happens, and I didn’t end up getting into the college that had an architectural engineering program. So, I ultimately decided on genetics partly because I have a twin brother with a disability and I really wanted to impact families the way doctors had impacted mine growing up. I made the switch, but I would say that going from engineering to genetics, and even into finance, it wasn’t that much of a shift because it’s all math-focused; you just concentrate on different things. But I think they’re all interconnected in more ways than that.
So what elements of genetics do you bring into finance?
Genetics requires a strong background in statistics, and statistics is also a lot of finance on a micro and a macro level, particularly with how trends happen. There is a lot of overlap. In genetics, you’re doing actual case studies and in finance, you’re following a lot of trends and then using those trends to make strategic decisions on how you actually do things, such as trading stocks or the different portfolios you have and how you manage them.
You mentioned that you have a twin brother. I was wondering if you could talk about your twin brother a little bit and how he’s influenced you.
My twin has influenced me in more ways than not. He was the man in high school, and everybody knew him and loved him. Once you get older, the community isn’t strong for people with disabilities. Your life kind of changes. I wouldn’t say I’m an introvert, but I’m definitely not as extroverted as him. He has a larger than life personality. Whatever he wants to do, he does it, and I use a lot of his drive to do what I do today. He never looks at his disability as a disability. I, being an able-bodied person, really have no excuse to not do anything. If he can do it, I can do it.
Yeah, that’s awesome. I also was reading a couple of articles on you before our conversation and I saw you talk about your mom in one of the articles. I was wondering how your mom has influenced you. She seems like a really cool lady. My mom was also a working parent.
My mom is a badass, boss woman. She’s so independent, so strong. She has taught me everything about finance, like budgeting and credit and being super savvy when it comes to money. Outside of that, she was the single parent who had twins, with one having a disability. My mom always put her kids before everything. She did it with such grace and confidence and definitely instilled those things in me as well. Here’s one of the examples that you may have read, but I’ll repeat again. I definitely resonate with it now that I’m an adult. When I was younger, my mom was often in and out of work because my brother was in and out of the hospital a lot while we were growing up. Her superiors said to her one day, “You’re really going to put your kids before your job?” My mom quit on the spot… She did that, and she did it with such confidence and boldness. I figure there would be other ways in 2019. Today, I don’t think anybody could get away with saying that to anybody. I find there’s a lot of strength and a lot of power in that I hope to take. I look up to her as much as possible.
When did you realize you wanted to go into stock trading, and why did you decide to take that path?
It’s one of those things that definitely happened organically. It wasn’t anything that I would say I had a disinterest in. I was like many young kids graduating college and ultimately decided that I didn’t want to pursue genetics because we are not as technologically advanced [in the field] as I had hoped. But, I knew I wanted to move to New York. I know it’s so cliche that when people graduate they move to L.A. or New York. But I went to New York the summer before I graduated from college, and I knew this was where I belonged. I didn’t exactly know what that entailed. I graduated, moved to New York, and started networking and talking to everybody. I would look for any job that would give me an opportunity, honestly. When the position of an equity trader came and was proposed to me, I had nothing to lose. I figured I could do this. I’m young. I could do this for two years and start building my resume. If I like it, wonderful. If I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. That’s the one thing I really like about millennials, particularly younger millennials, and definitely Gen Z-ers. If we want to do something, we just do it. We say, “Let’s make it happen. Let’s try it out. And if it doesn’t work out, that’s OK. Let’s try something new.” I think my mindset is on par with the younger generation. The older generation doesn’t see it that way. Everything they do is for the most part like a linear pathway. It gradually builds upon itself. The younger generation, we just go with what makes us feel comfortable.
Yes, I think that’s so true. How did you make it happen? How did you break into stock trading? What was the path into that like?
I was networking with a lot of people. Again, I had a strong background in statistics. That is the one thing that I leveraged. I figured that I couldn’t leverage my genetics background as much because with genetics and most sciences I would need to pursue an advanced degree. But I could think about numbers. I love numbers. Numbers were the universal language. So, when I was networking with people, I just focused heavily on my statistics background. I was introduced to a man who knew somebody on the trading floor who said, “I think just based off your statistics background this is something that you might be interested in.” When I say it happened organically and it wasn’t a thing that I was seeking out, it really happened organically. I mean, obviously, I needed to talk about something. Right? Who’s gonna talk to me if I network? But to actually articulate, even in finance, it wasn’t anything that I specifically articulated. Statistics, outside of finance, is universal in the sense of a lot of jobs use statistics in one way or another, whether it’s in HR or it’s a business analyst or it is finance. So it’s one of those skills that I think it can be good to have for sure. And it definitely helps me.
I love numbers. Numbers were the universal language.
That’s so cool. You talk about how millennials go out and break away from these linear paths, and I was wondering if it felt risky at all? Were you nervous to go into stock trading, or did it feel comfortable?
I was nervous when I officially got the job and after I passed the exam, but I think I was nervous because of the amount of money we trade. I traded a notational value of 150 million dollars a day. Middle-class America to 150 million dollars. What is that? Those are large numbers with a lot of dealings. I obviously didn’t want to mess anybody up. But that’s another thing. I think when we take the biggest risk and the more we reach outside of our comfort zone that’s when the biggest growth comes. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared to a certain degree. There was a mixture of things that I was scared of. But it never was of failure. I got on a plane in December. I got my job in March. There were so many moving parts. I was trying to find a job. I just moved from Georgia. I went to school and didn’t come from a finance background and now was being offered a finance job and was essentially in a boys’ club. There were many different things. Maybe scared isn’t the word as I definitely wasn’t afraid of the outcome. There were a lot of new things that were on the horizon that was maybe a bit scary, but I don’t really like that word.
How did you overcome those challenges and those initial anxieties about getting into such a new field?
The biggest thing was that I knew ultimately whatever was going to be was going to be, and it was going to work out the way that it was supposed to be. I don’t necessarily believe in failure. I think everything happens the way that it should be. There is negative stigmatization with failure, but failure is also growth. If it doesn’t work out, shrug your shoulders and move forward. Despite the anxieties of all the newness that was around me and all the new things that were coming, I knew it was going to work out. I knew that in my heart of hearts. I also used that persistence and that fire. Mind you, prior to getting the job on the trading floor, I networked with many people. I sat down with many different people for informational interviews. I had people telling me that I was reaching too high or that I didn’t have a clear direction. Those are very old mindsets that the older generation has. Trying to pursue anything else other than genetics to them didn’t make sense. To me, it made complete sense. When you’re going into a new field and you’re going through the traditional route––maybe not even just traditional routes, as content creators and even influencers today probably go through the same thing–– you’re always going to have the older generation feeling like they know a little bit more. To a certain degree, they are a bit more knowledgeable, but again, there is no certain pathway. For me and for anybody, know that you know yourself better than anyone else. You see your vision, and you can make your vision happen as much as possible. It’s going to happen. For me, I just had to keep taking a step back and saying, “Okay, if people want to doubt me, that’s perfectly OK. I know that it’s going to work out and just let that be that.”
Did you ever get push back from older people having different perceptions of what stock trading should be? Or did you ever get pushback from them on the floor about how you were doing things?
The men on the floor, overall, at the beginning of my two years there were amazing. It wasn’t until my life started going more into the media space and people were fascinated with my story and then other projects were coming on board that they just didn’t get it. They still don’t get it. They think I’m foolish and so on and so forth. Again, those are dated mindsets. Do what you love. If you have a passion for it, do it. If you don’t have a passion for it, don’t do it. No one going forward should ever have to stay in a job, the same job for their whole life. Now, that applies to stock traders as well. Everybody under the age of 30 that I started with on the trading floor or just under the age of 30, in general, only stays on the trading floor for 10 years. They either love finance and then they stay in finance. Or, they don’t like finance, and they go into something else. It’s a shift of the trading floor. It is definitely going to change. You’re not just going to see lifers, those people who spend decades on the trading floor. They retire because they want to go on and do other things. They don’t want to be in the same building for fifty years. They want to pursue other things, and they want to continue to be happy and have purpose and love their job.
I don’t necessarily believe in failure. I think everything happens the way that it should be. There is negative stigmatization with failure, but failure is also growth. If it doesn’t work out, shrug your shoulders and move forward.
What’s a day like on the trading floor? I’ve seen The Wolf of Wall Street and things like that, but I’m not really sure that’s an accurate representation. What does it feel like to be on the trading floor managing such massive amounts?
In today’s times, it’s a little bit different. We have a lot of algorithms, and a lot of trading is passive. The first five minutes and the last five minutes of the day are definitely hectic and crazy. You’re running around very much like in Wall Street movies. But the middle of the game is very passive because we have the technology now that does it for us. It’s a lot more passive. But as far as the men that I worked with, I would say Hollywood accurately portrays the alpha personalities and the business suits and crazy lifestyles. Those things can definitely be exciting as well, especially if you are someone that is completely out there in the space. I don’t mean just being a woman, but just being an African-American woman and being in a completely different space than what background they come from. That’s exciting: to put yourself in a different place and to see it differently.
Touching on being an other in the space, when you were at work looking around, did you ever feel like you didn’t belong there? What’s it like to be the only one of the few women in the room and probably the only African American woman in the room? Did that ever feel uncomfortable, and how did you deal with that?
Not at all because I came from a genetics background. Predominantly, I was one of the only or the few. I was sometimes really the only woman. Then, I think of race. For genetics, there were a lot of white men and then in engineering even more so. So I think all the courses and school work that I’ve been through definitely prepared me to be in an environment that I was the other in the room. But I never felt uncomfortable. I had done it for years and was perfectly okay with it. It’s all about respect and communication. If you can do that, then it really doesn’t matter what you look like or what you’re about. You can communicate, you can respect one another, and you can love what you’re doing at the same time. It doesn’t matter. Obviously, I say that and it might sound very PC. I know it’s 2019, and there are real issues and real things going on within the media or even with the president. I’m not saying that things like that don’t happen, but I will say that it’s better when there is an environment that people want to see you succeed in and there is communication, which I think is key. Professional, personal communication, etc. Let people know that they may have crossed the line. They have some type of awareness to say, “Oh, I didn’t mean to offend you and I won’t do it again” or whatever the circumstances are. You guys can iron out what is and isn’t OK. All in all, it was great working with them. I never felt weird, outside of the jacket. It was a men’s size jacket. But I don’t necessarily fault them for that because it was an institution that’s been around for 226 years, at the time, and they didn’t really have that many women. So, they didn’t have women’s jackets or just different nuances, but they definitely tried to accommodate the best that they could. Again, I think communication and respect are key.
I think you definitely touched on this, but what advice do you have to women looking into reaching into male-dominated careers, like finance or STEM?Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate to go into those spaces, even if you are the other. There definitely will be a lot of growth for you and potentially a lot of growth for them. But you also have the power to stay or leave. If an organization is trying to check off a box and doesn’t care about your growth or wants to see you succeed, you have the power—just as much as they do—to say, “You know what? This isn’t working out,” and leave. You want to be in an environment that fosters growth, that wants to see you succeed, that wants all the best things for you, right? You want to be part of a company that does the same thing. If they’re not, then it’s okay to walk away. But I wouldn’t hesitate to be in an uncomfortable situation. I know that it is interesting being in a male-dominated space when you have much more open conversations such as the #MeToo movement and what isn’t and is okay. But I guess, as a woman or anybody that’s an other, find your allies immediately, as soon as you can when you get into the organization. Once you’re there, make sure that you’re partnering with them. Some young women have this negative mindset that they don’t care and they don’t want to see you grow. I also believe that what you seek will manifest itself. So I think you should think optimistic and be open. People are people and it is what it is. But I wouldn’t stray away from taking an opportunity because you are the other in the room.
Do you have any advice for people if they’re trying to become more financially independent?
Yes. Saving is your best friend. When I say save, don’t just put it in your checking account and don’t touch it. Put it into a savings account and let it accrue interest. You can look into investing in stocks, but I want to debunk something. There’s a misconception that if you trade on the stock market you’ll make a lot of money overnight. That’s not the case. Have these colorful, amazing, extraordinary lives, but also live within your means. You don’t need to have the latest, greatest everything. You don’t always need to go on a trip. You don’t need to always go out to dinner. Those experiences can be just as rewarding and fun, even if it’s only a couple of times a year. That’s perfectly okay. Not everything needs to be for social media or Instagram. Live in the moment, be present. Please save money, but also have fun. An older mindset would be, “Save, save, save, save, but not actually have experiences.” You definitely should, but they should not be frequent. You shouldn’t be trying to do things for funny types of gratification. Like, if I save my money to go to Bali just to post on Instagram, when we look back on it 10 years from now, is that going to be just as rewarding? Probably not. So do things you want to do. Be present and have fun and save.
Looking back now, what would you say to your younger self?
It took me a while to get out of my shell. High school for me wasn’t a great experience at all. 1. Stop caring about what other people have to think. It does not matter. 2. Have fun with whatever you’re doing. I definitely learned a lot about those things when I got to college. I don’t think it honestly would have made a difference if I had known it a little bit earlier. But I do think, if I had known it, I would not have had as much social anxiety as I did growing up, caring too much what other people think. My advice would be living to my absolute fullest, having fun, not caring too much about fitting in or caring what other people’s opinions are, and not questioning myself. I truly believe that people know themselves better than anyone else. You know yourself better than anyone else. You know what it is that you want and you don’t need validation from anybody to go and do that. There are people around you that don’t want to support you. That’s their perception and mindset. That’s perfectly OK. But do what makes you happy. I wish I would’ve known that a little bit more in high school, because I think I would have had a better experience, in my opinion.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.