giftal banner advert banner

Teacher to trader: Michele Schneider’s journey as one of Wall Street’s first female commodities traders

629 Views

Michele “Mish” Schneider was struggling financially as a special education teacher in New York City.  Her specialty was modifying the curriculum so that special needs children could be integrated into general education classrooms. While the job paid poorly, she wasn’t considering switching careersOpens a New Window.. That all changed one Saturday after a knock on her door.

“There was this beautiful girl that was my upstairs neighbor standing there,” Schneider says. “She was having a party for the World Series and asked me if I wanted to attend. I didn’t, but we became friends.”

That meeting changed Schneider’s life forever. Her neighbor worked as a clerk for Merrill Lynch at the Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa Exchange. She took Schneider under her wing and introduced her to the world of Wall Street. The teacher became the student. Schneider says she was blown away the first time she visited the floor of the exchange.

“I was like this is where I need to be,” she says. “I knew nothing about finance. It wasn’t like I came from a family that even had investments. I don’t know exactly what it was, but when I saw 3,000 or so people running around, the action, all the boards and prices of all of the different commodities and the excitement – it clicked.” 

Despite knowing very little about financeOpens a New Window., Schneider left teaching and was hired as an analyst at Conti-Commodities working at the Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa Exchange.

“I didn’t know a darn thing,” she says. “But this guy said – this is a direct quote – he liked the cut of my ‘jib.’ So he hired me. I actually got a better job than the girl who brought me there had.”

Schneider made an effort to learn everything she could as quickly as possible.

“It was amazing how well I took to the whole thing. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It was perfect for me. I had never been out of school my whole life. I was either a student or in school teaching or consulting. It’s like the world opened up for me.”

Within six months, Schneider went from knowing nothing about the markets to being hired as an analyst and then subsequently promoted to a broker. 

“To be on the floor in the heyday of commodities back in the 80s was an amazing education,” she says. “I learned so many things about the markets and how the markets move. It was a full-on five-sense experience. Now people sit and they watch a computer screen. I could hear, smell, touch, taste what was going on and I think that’s really what molded me as a trader. It taught me to think on my feet and look at the market from all dimensions.”

Schneider was one of the first female traders on the commoditiesOpens a New Window. floor on Wall Street. While some men welcomed her presence, some did not.

“It was like a typical environment as you’d see anywhere,” she says. “I had guys that were like my father and protected me. I had guys that were like my sons and came to me for advice. Guys who were just like my friends who just wanted to hang out and guys that avoided me like the plague. Then there were also a few guys that were questionable in terms of their behavior towards me.”

Schneider recalled one colleague in particular with whom she had issues.

“There was one guy who really hated me being there,” she says. “He and his gang of friends would say, ‘Hey Mish, why aren’t you home vacuuming?”

Schneider says he disliked her presence so much that he brought her up on charges of using point-and-figure charts to track price movements in the ring. She used charts in part because it was difficult to physically compete with the men in the ring and track the order flow. The charges led to her first real test in front of the Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa membership committee.

“They ruled in my favor,” Schneider says. “That was a real feather in the cap. So even though I got flak from a lot of the other guys, I was now legitimate.”

Schneider worked at various exchanges through the years, including the COMEX, NYMEX and Finex. She says her experience gave her a lot of insight into men’s behavior. She observed that when men are in high-stress situations with lots of action, they tend to be very physical with each other.

“I realized I should never be upset if somebody smacked me on the back. Not hard to hurt me, but tousled me about and said, ‘Hey Mish, how are you doing?’ I never got upset by that. I allowed myself to be nonjudgmental about their behavior and that really helped a lot.”

Schneider says not only did she have to learn how to deal with the differences in physicality with the men on the floor; she also had to navigate the party atmosphere of the 1980s.

“I don’t need to tell you how much partying there was in the 80s,” she says. “With the champagne flowing and the cocaine in the bathroom, I had to say to myself, what kind of Mish do I want to be here? I didn’t want to be a stick in the mud, but I didn’t want to be Mish the party girl. So I kind of stayed right in the middle. It was an interesting experience.”

After trading commodities for 13 years, Schneider’s career has come full circle. She is currently the director of trading educationOpens a New Window. at MarketGauge.comOpens a New Window.. Schneider says the role has allowed her to combine her education background along with all that she has learned on Wall Street.