Michael Tomars ‘87
June 9, 2011:
Thursday, February 4, 2010
When Michael Tomars '87 was twelve years old, his uncle took him to the Pacific Stock Exchange (PCX) where he witnessed the excitement and frenzy of trading on the equity floor. With enthusiasm, Michael declared that when he grew up, he wanted to work at the PCX. Nearly a decade later, Michael achieved his youthful aspiration and began a 16-year career with the PCX before joining the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).
Michael's post-Menlo career began when he impressed a newly elected government official at a Town Hall meeting by quizzing him relentlessly about the S&L crisis. He attributes his outspokenness, in part, to his Menlo education. Referring to lessons learned in Professor Craig Medlen's classroom, Michael said he was taught "Don't accept the status quo. Ask questions." At this meeting, Michael's penchant for inquiry and fascination with the banking crisis turned into an instant job offer. As a field operator, Michael was tasked with recruiting and managing 40-plus precinct directors in Monte Sereno, Los Gatos, and Saratoga. Michael was successful as a field operator, and through connections he made at that job, he was recommended for the Pacific Stock Exchange in 1988. Although there was no official job posting, Michael arrived for his interview, was given a fractions test and offered a job as a Market Quote Terminal Operator.
During his tenure at the PCX, Michael was promoted to Listing Analyst. In this position, it was Michael's responsibility to lead a massive effort to delist securities that were noncompliant with regulatory requirements. Always possessing a strong moral code, Michael states that "you can't be afraid to do the right thing." He viewed his job delisting noncompliant companies as a way of serving investors and promoting responsible capital formation. Michael believes it's crucial for the business world to focus on what it means to be ethical. His personal philosophy is to promote general welfare and enhance one's own position but not at the expense of others.
Over the next 16 years, Michael received six promotions, working his way from the trading pit to an upstairs office where he served as Vice President of Shareholder & Registration Services, Marketing Administration & Research. When asked what career advice he'd give to students entering the workforce, Michael says, "Never think the job is beneath you. You can't manage something you haven't done yourself." Michael thinks this approach makes for a more successful manager.
Michael is also an ardent traveler and photographer, venturing to Fiji, New Zealand, Japan, India, Bora Bora, and the Cook Islands. During a trip to New Zealand in 1992, Michael had an epiphany. He was touring the New Zealand Stock Exchange and asked to be shown the trading floor. He was told that the stock exchange had abandoned the traditional trading floor model in favor of a screen-based system in 1991. Michael realized he was looking at the future of the stock exchange—screen-based, floorless trading. Back at the PCX, screen-based trading was delayed by a membership reluctant to embrace change. Michael acknowledges that it can be easier to innovate in a smaller setting than in a larger one, where political streams have many currents. "Change in financial markets will happen all the time," Michael explains. "In business you need to be proactive and not wait for something to break. If you don't fix it, it will fix you." Michael floorless trading would come to the PCX, and eventually it did. When PCX was purchased by Archipelago Holdings in 2005, it was clear that the PCX would be the first exchange to trade both equities and options on a fully electronic platform. As a result, the floor community dissipated quickly. Michael is thrilled by the progression of technology in the markets. As he puts it, "I still can't believe it happened in my lifetime."
In 2005, Michael joined the SEC. Michael's previous interaction with the SEC included serving as liaison for the PCX during three SEC inspections and various sweeps of listings areas under his direction. The mission of the SEC is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. Says Michael, "As more and more first-time investors turn to the markets to help secure their futures, pay for homes, and send children to college, the investor protection mission is more compelling than ever."
Indeed, ethics has always been a strong theme in Michael's life. He likes to discuss the importance of ethics in business school. "Always think you can do better. We need more of a focus on what it means to be ethical in business. Try to align your goals to promote general welfare and enhance your own position through positive actions. Remember to practice the right things every day."
For Michael, Menlo provided him with a great foundation for his career. "Menlo is about turning a good student into a great student." He cites small class size as a key factor in his education. "You can't go to class without being prepared. You knew you were going to be called on, so you had to do the work." At Menlo, Michael was involved with Delta Mu Delta and Alpha Chi. He helped to create a speaker program and newsletter at Delta Mu Delta. When he perceived a need in the Menlo community, Michael sought to provide something to fill that need. As a graduating senior, Michael received the College Medal, which recognized his achievements as a scholar, peer advisor, and friend to the Menlo community.
Nowadays, you can find Michael continuing to identify and fill needs in the community—be it as an SEC accountant looking after the needs of the investor, as a homeowner serving on the board of his homeowner's association, or as a Menlo alumnus giving back his time and talent to the College. And down the road, even public office is an option for Michael. In the meantime, he continues to cultivate hobbies he's had since he was a child—everything from piano, organ, musical theater, music composition (he copyrighted his first song, a ballad, in 1989), travel and photography. What's next? Only time will tell.