Morgan Stanley

Mike Asmar

Managing Director, Institutional Equity


Mike Asmar has been an equity derivatives trader since joining the firm in 2005. He began on the singlename options desk as a trader in the healthcare sector. In 2009, Mike moved to the index volatility desk, initially focusing on dispersion/correlation trading. He now runs the VIX (volatility) and variance businesses, also managing client trading in some of the firm’s volatility indices. Mike earned a BS in Mathematical and Computational Science from Stanford University.

How do you explain what you do to people outside the industry?

I am a trader. I run the firm’s VIX (volatility) and variance businesses, and manage some client trading. What I do is much like running a small business: You need to understand your products inside and out, have opinions on what is happening in your markets and how those products will be impacted, and discuss those opinions with clients in order to help them accomplish their goals.

Our clients are hedge funds, asset managers, endowments and governments—all institutions who invest money. They have diverse goals, but a common one is hedging. I help them by facilitating large transactions that they cannot execute on their own because of the size or complexity of the transaction. These trades incur risk, so my job includes managing that risk.

I also educate clients and give them market perspective. Over time we develop strong partnerships as we provide them consistent and reliable service, and they benefit from dealing with an institution that is involved in the largest transactions in our industry.

How have you progressed and evolved through your time at Morgan Stanley?

I have been a derivatives trader since joining the firm in 2005, after a summer internship the year before. I started on the options desk as a trader in the healthcare sector. After three and a half years, I moved to the index volatility desk. Today, I am responsible for a handful of volatility products on the main US stock index, SPX.

I have held three distinct roles, essentially changing derivative trading seats every few years, which has provided me with a broader perspective and skill set and allowed me to successfully evolve here at the firm. Along the way, I’ve had the chance to get to know and learn from countless talented and intelligent colleagues.

What advice would you give recent graduates interested in an investment or trading career?

At the start of any career, it is all about learning: You are expected to be a sponge and soak up everything around you, until you get to the point where you can provide value. Often, that contribution begins by focusing on a narrow area and developing some expertise. As you progress and gather experience, your knowledge and focus expands and you become increasingly valuable to your team.

There is a big focus at Morgan Stanley on finding roles for people where they can express their highest potential. Each of my roles has brought me closer to that goal.

Trading has a lot of technical aspects, but what other skills are crucial to success?

Transacting business that is both beneficial to clients and the firm requires a lot of collaboration. Part of my role is collaborating with others, along with managing and building technology that helps us trade seamlessly, manage our risk, and provide better value to our clients.

This is a very social and personal business that involves interacting with people of various backgrounds and personality types. An important part of enjoying this business and doing well is having a sociable personality. I often hear from new hires that they came to Morgan Stanley because they felt comfortable here, that it was a nurturing environment, where they felt people would help them grow.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

There are generally three parts to my day. Before the market opens, I get informed on the overnight news and global markets, and I think about any implications they might have for my products. I’ll meet with traders, salespeople and other colleagues to discuss ideas in detail. Once the market opens, I’ll be trading with and talking to clients throughout the day, while managing risk for them and for the firm.

After the market closes, I spend time evaluating and double-checking any new positions or trades, and thinking critically about what happened during the day. Our team always looks back and analyzes what we’ve done. Then there are usually more meetings and visiting clients in person. Besides the liquidity we provide, clients come to Morgan Stanley because we have knowledge of the markets and can provide them with “color” or perspective, helping them make better decisions.

How would you describe the culture of the firm?

Diverse and collaborative. We have a diverse client base, and in order to properly serve them, we need a diverse set of perspectives from our employee base. Combined with strong internal collaboration, this allows us to solve the ever-changing challenges we face. There is also 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.

Do you actively participate in mentoring?

Mentoring is a focus at the firm, both in a formal and informal way, and I encountered it as early as my summer internship. It has been an important part of how I continue to make sure that my career is progressing and growing. I rely on my mentors for assistance with the big picture.

As you grow, you 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. Because it is such a strong part of the culture, it’s relatively easy to establish mentor-mentee relationships.

Get Your Career Started At Morgan Stanley