Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman’s 3 Lessons For Dealing With Disruption

Nasdaq president and CEO Adena Friedman talks disruption and how best to deal with its challenges.
Nasdaq President & CEO Adena Friedman.

Nasdaq is one company that understand disruption. As the first electronic market in 1971, it launched as a disrupter of trading. But by the late ’90s, Nasdaq found itself the dinosaur among scrappy startups that were able to adopt new technology more quickly. Not knowing quite how to respond to the new competitive climate, Nasdaq lost ground. “I was there at the time, watching our market share go from 97 percent to 14 percent in trading,” Nasdaq’s president and CEO, Adena Friedman, told attendees gathered for Chief Executive Group’s CEO2CEO Summit. “We didn’t weather that well.”

After Friedman’s predecessor, Robert Greifeld, bought its nearest competitor, Instinet, Nasdaq began reinventing itself as a technology company. Friedman continued on that path, and today, the company provides underlying trading technology to 100 different markets around the world. Nasdaq reported record net revenues for third quarter 2017 of $607 million, up 4 percent from the year before. The market is still highly competitive, but Friedman sees that as an opportunity. “The U.S. capital markets can handle a lot more competition than other markets around the world,” she said. “We’re a better company and a better market because we have to compete.”

“Complacency is the killer of every great company.” – Adena friedman

Friedman offered three lessons for dealing with disruption:

  1. Live in reality. “You can’t look the other way and pretend it’s not happening to you. We had to understand that this was the new world, that the guys competing with us were the best technologists in our space, and we had to change the way we did things.”
  2. Don’t place all your bets on one killer app. “Instead of being incremental and solving problems one at a time, we had this big project that we thought would solve everything. Don’t assume there is one panacea.”
  3. Regulation is not the answer. “We went to the regulators to get them to solve our problem for us by complaining,” Friedman said. But in the end, the only way forward was to compete to prove Nasdaq was the best at what it did. “As a country, we value competition and the idea of allowing free markets to force everyone to up their game.”

In that environment, no company can afford to be overconfident because there will always be a competitor around the corner waiting to eat your lunch. “Complacency is the killer of every great company,” she said. “In the blink of an eye, things can change around you. Be ready for the change and embrace it.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.