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The Man You Brought Tech and Humor to the Brokerage Business

Barry Ritholtz

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Talk about timing: Masters in Business sat down with Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., on Nov. 12 and 10 days later Charles Schwab Corp. offered to buy TD for $26 billion (Ricketts still owns more than 8% of the company).

TD Ameritrade has its roots in First Omaha Securities, a Midwest retail brokerage firm that Ricketts started in 1975. First Omaha introduced a series of technological firsts that helped drive its rise: It was the first to advertise a toll-free telephone service for investors to call and place buy and sell orders, and it was the first to provide price quotes and accept orders via touch-tone phone. Not so novel today, but big innovations more than 30 years ago. In 1995, the company became the first brokerage firm to handle online trading over the internet.

In an attempt to cut through the clutter, Ricketts tried to use humor to reach potential clients. Ameritrade became famous for its slack stick dot-com-era TV advertising. The best known was the “Let’s Light This Candle” ad, featuring Stuart the office boy as the main character. It became a viral meme before such things even existed.

First Omaha bought lots of other regional brokers, eventually going public in 1997 and later merging with TD Waterhouse in 2006. Now it's TD that's being bought.Ricketts is the author of "The Harder You Work, the Luckier You Get: An Entrepreneur’s Memoir." His family trust has owned the Chicago Cubs since 2009; the team won the World Series in 2016, its first championship in 108 years.

His favorite books are here; a transcript of our conversation can found here.

You can stream/download the full conversation, including the podcast extras on Apple iTunes, Overcast, Spotify, Google, Bloomberg and Stitcher. All of our earlier podcasts on your favorite pod hosts can be found here.

Next week, we speak with Ben Horowitz, founding partner of famed venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and author of "What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture."

To contact the author of this story: Barry Ritholtz at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Greiff at

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is chairman and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and was previously chief market strategist at Maxim Group. He is the author of “Bailout Nation.”

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