The University of Chicago Magazine
Lots of Options
Donald Wilson, Jr., AB'88, learned early to weigh his options. When he started college, for example, his parents gave him "kind of a lump sum" for tuition that he could spend any way he pleased. At the U of C, he notes, "the lump sum didn't really cover four years...so I had to either take some time off or finish" fast. Luckily, what he lacked in cash, he could cover with credit--academic credit.
Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in St. Louis, Wilson had moved with his family to Switzerland when he was 12. Backed by numerous advanced-placement credits and fluent in French and German, he earned his degree in economics in just two years and a quarter. After that, he recalls, "I was excited to get into the real world."
He first worked for a trading firm at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, but with the help of a financial backer soon secured his own Exchange seat and, as the youngest trader in the frenzied "pits," began to trade in Eurodollars options. These days, the 29-year-old Wilson, known as the Merc's "whiz kid," heads the 40-person DRW Trading Group. The firm and its 16-person London counterpart routinely handle 20 percent of the Eurodollar options market. But Wilson still spends most days standing on the floor of the Merc, where he watches, calculates, buys, and sells options and futures.
Wilson enjoys trading, he says, because it's both entrepreneurial and "very, very sophisticated....If you want to spend your weekends running regressions and crunching numbers and trying to model market behavior or vola-tility or skew," Wilson explains, "you can do that. And you're up against some of the brightest people in the world." He adds, "It's like playing a very challenging game...with good opponents."
For Wilson, "The way you keep score in this game is by how much money you make. So by definition you have to be in this to make as much money as you can, subject to certain constraints. But...the main reason I'm doing this is because it's challenging for me."
While he's in no hurry to leave the trading floor, Wilson does have a life outside the exchange. For one thing, he was married in June. For another, the young financier made his independent-film production debut in February with Ill Gotten Gains, starring Eartha Kitt and Djimon Hounsou in a true story about the 1869 uprising on the slave ship Amistad.
When it screened at a festival in West Africa, the movie drew an audience of 10,000. With luck, Wilson says, that reaction may help him close a deal with a distributor who would release the film in the States.
Will he finance more films in future? "We'll see," is all he'll say. "It depends on how this one works out economically." No doubt he'll weigh his options--map a yield curve, make a prediction, and play to win.C.M.
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