Financial History Issue 131 (Fall 2019) - Page 19

1985 advertisement for trading by touch-tone phone. The ad features Joe Ricketts’ brother, Dick, showing the world that if you have a touchtone phone, you can call in to make trades for only three pennies per share on the Accutrade system. When Cliff realized we were serious, he proposed that a colleague come in as a fourth partner, so in a disagreement it would be two against two. We agreed. For a name, we took Omaha, because we assumed we would be a local business, and we put “First” in front of it, like banks do. We would be First Omaha Securities. This, finally, was my chance. I was excited as hell, but my share was a lot of money to me. I had to borrow several thousand dollars from Bob, several thou- sand more from my brother Dick and even a little from friends. I knew that if I lost that $12,500, my life would change drastically. In those days, I was only get- ting by week-to-week. How would I pay back that kind of money if I lost it? And yet, at the same time, I remember feeling comfortable. There I was in the middle of all that risk, and it felt normal. It was as if I’d been waiting for it all my life. Of course, I knew that our business would mean work, work, work. But this work would be an adventure. There was no class you could take to explain how to succeed as a broker in the new age of negotiated commissions. No one to tell us what to do. We had to get out there with our brains and our strength and make it succeed. It was like the frontier days. We were the first beaver trappers Tom Pleiss, Larry Collett, Jim Ricketts and Joe Ricketts pose with a trade show display for an Ameritrade, Inc. back-office data system in the early 1990s. in an unknown river valley. In my heart I believed: This is me. This is what I was meant to be. Forty-five years later, that company we started sometimes handles more than a million trades a day. It employs about 10,000 people, all of whom can build lives for themselves and their families. Suc- cesses like that made this country, and they are what will keep it strong in the future. The principle I first learned as a young man still holds: the way to relieve misery and bring happiness is through free enterprise. I prefer the term “free enterprise” to “capitalism,” which sounds as if you need a lot of capital to participate. But we started Ameritrade, as many entrepreneurs do, with almost no money. Many Americans, I’m afraid, no longer respect free enter- prise. The term has come to seem the prop- erty of conservatives, while liberals appear drawn instead to socialism. Many young people apparently do not understand what economists have clearly shown, which is that for this country to provide jobs for people coming into the workforce each year, we need to increase gross national product by at least 3% annually. Free enter- prise is what creates new jobs and makes the economy expand. I don’t see how we can be America without it. As I looked back on my career, I won- dered what I could do to convey the power and the possibility of free enterprise to a country in danger of forgetting. I wanted to show that we have the opportunity to take on the big odds and change people’s lives. I realized I could show that by tell- ing the story of how we built Ameritrade, which is a dramatic story because the outcome was always in doubt. Every year, there was a new reason we were almost driven out of business. Our story is an exciting way to show what it takes to build a breakthrough business, to make clear how entrepreneurship built this country and to demonstrate why free enterprise remains its best hope for prosperity and happiness to this day.  Joe Ricketts is the founder, former CEO and retired chairman of online broker- age TD Ameritrade, and the author of The Harder You Work, The Luckier You Get. Copyright © 2019 by Joe Ricketts. from The Harder You Work, the Luckier You Get: An Entrepreneur’s Memoir, pub- lished by Simon & Schuster. Reprinted by permission.  |  Fall 2019  |  FINANCIAL HISTORY  17