Talk about lucky timing: I sat down with Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade on November 12th. Ten days later, Schwab announced it was purchasing TD for $26 billion dollars (Ricketts is still a 7% owner of TD). He is also the author of The Harder You Work, the Luckier You Get: An Entrepreneur’s Memoir, and his family trust owns the Chicago Cubs since 2009, helping to obtain their first World Series victory in 108 years.
Ricketts launched First Omaha, a Midwest brokerage firm in 1975. First Omaha began a series of technological firsts which helped drove their rise: They were the first to advertise an 800 number for investors to call in toll free to made buys or sells; obvious today, but innovative 30 years ago. The company was the very first to allow quote and order entry system via touch tone phone. In 1995, the company became the first brokerage firm to allow online trading over the internet. It started with email trade orders + confirmations (no voice communications), eventually moving to full trading interface for clients.
In an attempt to cut through the clutter, Ricketts wanted to use humor to reach potential clients. Ameritrade became infamous for its humorous dotcom era TV advertising. The most famous was the “Let’s Light This Candle” advert, featuring Stewart the office boy as the main character. It became a viral meme before such things even existed.
First Omaha rolled up lots of other brokers, eventually going public in 1997, merging with TD Waterhouse in 2006. Schwab’s takeover became official November 25th of