Wall Street’s Lauren Simmons is plotting her next act
Photo: Courtesy of Pamela Sisson
For anyone over the age of 26, Lauren Simmons’ career trajectory will likely make you feel very, very old. At the tender age of 22, she made history as the youngest female trader on the New York Stock Exchange and the second black woman in NYSE history to hold the position. She didn’t stay on Wall Street long — she left in 2018 — but she didn’t leave the world of finance. She is now gearing up to host an upcoming reality show titled Go publicwho is like shark tank, but it allows you, as a viewer, to be Mark Cuban and invest in the contestants’ businesses yourself as they prepare (as the title suggests) to go public with an IPO. Simmons’ job on the show is to demystify the investment process. Intelligencer spoke to Simmons on the phone about the new show, diversity in the world of finance, and his prediction of what will cause the next financial meltdown.
Investing remains a mystery to many Americans. What do you think everyone should know about the stock market and investing in general?
The key is not to be afraid, but also to really take the time and use your tools and resources to educate yourself on the stock market. I know we have come to a time where trading is easily accessible, and there are no fees attached to many platforms that exist today. Apps like Robin Hood really tried to target millennials without giving them the tools and resources to make informed decisions. They use really predatory practices.
Really, I want people not to be intimidated. You can turn on CNBC, and it will take some time and work to understand all the information they give. But if you gave yourself three months of time to Google everything you don’t understand about investing terminology. Or [in 2021] you’re looking at me Go public, since my role is to break it all down in layman’s terms to really help people understand whether they should invest in a business. Now, I’m not here to say whether you should or not; I’m here just to give you the facts.
I don’t think most novice investors should invest overnight. I think it takes time to understand what investing is.
Most industries are increasingly accepting of women and minorities, but in 2017 you became the second black woman to trade on the New York Stock Exchange. Why do you think the NYSE has remained closed to non-white males?
People aren’t applying for these positions, but companies aren’t contacting them either. [a diverse group of people] join the trading room. I also think, speaking with [NYSE president] Stacey Cunningham about my time there, that they don’t think it matters. There was recently an interview with Stacey on Bloomberg, [and she was asked] about how NASDAQ is very open to making sure everyone who’s listed has diverse members, and Stacey said something along the lines of, “I don’t think we should be on a quota system like this -the.” You can very well see that she doesn’t care about diversity and inclusion on the court.
Even before 2020 and the Black Lives Matter movement, it was said to start with leadership. If management does not see [lack of diversity] as a problem, it will not be channeled by the culture or the company. Wall Street has a long way to go. Outside of the New York Stock Exchange, I think other companies are making changes. In 2020, we’ve come way too far for this to be just a conversation, and we just should.
Now a lot of companies are not diversified. But my generation, young millennials and also Gen Z are looking for businesses that have that social component. If you don’t, you won’t be a strong business. Period.
The financial crisis of 2008 happened when you were in college, but were you affected by it? Has this been taken into account in your career choices?
I wasn’t affected by it, but as I’ve aged and now work in finance, I understand how it’s impacted people. In 2020, I see how many people haven’t recovered from 2008. Now they’re stricken again. Two years ago I said we were going to have a recession. I thought it would come from student loan debt, and I still believe we are due for another recession that will be caused by the trillions of dollars we have in student loan debt. Canceling student loan debt would help but not entirely solve the problem, as it is also about astronomical tuition fees. Why do some schools charge $80,000 a year? This is completely crazy.
With recessions, many people do not recover. When the next one comes, probably in about eight years, there will be a lot of people trying to catch up between 2008 and 2020. With everything I do today, I hope I can prepare people for the next recession so that ‘they’ll get through this gracefully.
What made you want to work on Go public?
With Go public, we make sure that all kinds of Americans are represented. Often we think of Wall Street and we think of many companies listed as having been founded by older white men. It’s important that we have diverse founders and that ordinary Americans can hopefully invest in this generation’s Tesla or Amazon. I love the concept of the show and being able to do it.
Go public seems to be trying to democratize investing. How do you think that’s really possible?
Investing in an IPO is usually reserved for institutional clients or high net worth individuals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to invest differently or better than Central America. [My job as the host] is to allow you to understand how capital is raised.
Wall Street has done a phenomenal job of masquerading as an exclusive boys club and this information [about stocks] is difficult to digest. It’s not. Go public allows everyone to be part of [the investment world]. It’s not as difficult as people have made it out to be in their minds.
The show is called Go public, but it also looks like you’re going public in many ways, becoming a TV host and also producing your own biopic. What is important to you in telling your story?
I’m a multi-faceted entrepreneur, and at its core it’s about making sure people have a full understanding of overall financial wellness and making sure people are having those conversations — that it’s Whether it’s advocating for more diversity and inclusion in finance or helping people be better at finance. I definitely could have stayed on Wall Street and made six or seven figures. But for me, it’s all about passion and purpose and everything I cling to is an extension of Lauren Simmons.
To be able to be an executive producer on a biopic of the story of my life with [actress] Kiersey Clemons, most actors aren’t people who look like me, because the guys at the New York Stock Exchange don’t look like me. But I made sure that the crew and the director looked like me. To bring it back to Go public, [creators] Todd [Goldberg] and Darren [Marble] ensure we have female founders and people from diverse backgrounds. In the minds of many people, the only way to be rich or successful is to be a white man. The show completely debunks that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.