Having spent more than 35 years helping to establish and run the world’s largest online brokerage, Joe Ricketts today has returned to his roots, focusing on a variety of entrepreneurial and philanthropic ventures.
A pioneer in the use of technology to revolutionize the financial services sector, Mr. Ricketts founded the company now known as TD Ameritrade, a securities industry leader that empowers self-directed investors with powerful and innovative investment tools and training.
After graduating Creighton University in 1968 with an economics degree, Mr. Ricketts began his professional career first as an investment advisor with Ricketts & Co., then as a registered representative with Dean Witter, and later a branch manager at Dun & Bradstreet. In 1975, he co-founded First Omaha Securities, a retail securities brokerage firm in Omaha, Nebraska. Under Ricketts’ leadership, First Omaha Securities was among the first companies to recognize the potential of the newly deregulated discount securities market. The company grew quickly and, through the use of innovative technology and marketing, evolved into TD Ameritrade, which today manages hundreds of billions of dollars in client assets and leads its competitors with hundreds of thousands of trades per day.
Since 2008, Mr. Ricketts has devoted himself to a variety of entrepreneurial ventures, including DNAinfo.com, High Plains Bison, The Lodge at Jackson Fork, and The American Film Company. He has also actively engaged in philanthropy through Opportunity Education Foundation, The Cloisters on the Platte Foundation, The Ricketts Art Foundation, The Ricketts Conservation Foundation, and Ending Spending, Inc.
A native of Nebraska, Mr. Ricketts now lives in Little Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Mr. Ricketts and his wife of more than 50 years have four children and twelve grandchildren.
Inspired by the natural beauty of North America—and in particular Wyoming’s Upper Hoback Valley—Joe Ricketts has devoted considerable time and resources to a variety of undertakings aimed at conserving the nation’s wildlife and wilderness areas. Over the years, he has been a major donor to many conservation organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and the Wyoming Wetlands Society. In 2013, he formalized his commitment to responsible environmental stewardship by creating The Ricketts Conservation Foundation. Mr. Ricketts’ conservation record includes:
WYOMING RANGE PRESERVATION
A magnificent wilderness area in west-central Wyoming, with stunning peaks and plunging valleys, the Wyoming Range has long been a favorite of campers, hikers, fishermen, and hunters—as well as energy companies that coveted the natural-gas reserves beneath its eastern flank. Starting in the early 2000s, Joe Ricketts played a key role in funding a campaign waged by more than 35 organizations—including Citizens Protecting the Wyoming Range, Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range, The Wilderness Society, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Trout Unlimited, and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation—to keep the range free of drilling rigs and pipelines. As a result of this campaign, Congress eventually enacted the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, protecting 1,200,000 acres of the Wyoming Range from future oil and gas leasing, thereby ensuring that residents and visitors alike will be able to enjoy these national treasures forever.
PROTECTING THE HOBACK
In October 2012, the Trust for Public Land reached an agreement with Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production to protect 58,000 acres of sensitive wilderness in Wyoming’s Hoback Basin by buying out PXP’s rights to drill for oil and gas on the land. Beloved for its rich hunting and fishing grounds and astounding natural beauty, the Hoback Basin includes the headwaters of the Hoback River, a prime wildlife habitat. Under the deal, PXP agreed to sell the Trust all its oil and gas leases in the Hoback Basin for $8.75 million – provided the Trust could come up with the money by the end of 2012. Joe Ricketts kicked off the fundraising effort with a $1-million contribution—and when the Dec. 31 deadline approached with the Trust still well short of its goal, Mr. Ricketts kicked in an additional $750,000 to push the campaign across the finish line. As a result, the land—much of it inside the Bridger-Teton National Forest (about 100 miles south of Grand Teton National Park)—will be forever saved from oil and gas drilling and preserved for hunting, fishing, and recreation. (For more details, see the Associated Press news story here.)
CONSERVING CUTTHROAT TROUT
Home to four unique strains of cutthroat trout, Wyoming is one of the nation’s most significant refuges of native trout diversity. As part of an effort to maintain that diversity, Mr. Ricketts has devoted considerable time and resources to protecting a key trout habitat, the Hoback River, which flows through his Jackson Fork Ranch and which he helped to persuade Congress to designate a wild and scenic river.
The Hoback is a key component of the State of Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam program, a fly-fishing competition organized by the Wyoming Game and Fish department to encourage anglers to learn more about Wyoming’s cutthroat sub-species and develop a greater appreciation for the state’s cutthroat management program. In addition to supporting the Cutt-Slam program, Mr. Rickets has contributed to Trout Unlimited to foster long-term cutthroat conservation through angling and angler engagement.
SAVING THE SWANS
For several years now, the Wyoming Wetlands Society has been working with private landowners in an effort to restore Trumpeter Swans to what used to be their native habitats. Joe Ricketts has long been part of this program, maintaining an open area of water throughout the winter in a pond at his Jackson Fork Ranch for just this purpose. As of 2013, his breeding pair had hatched eight cygnets, four of whom were transferred to Yellowstone Park, while another two went to the Wind River Range.
Announced in October 2013, the first major project of The Ricketts Conservation Foundation is a five-year, $6.5-million study aimed at reestablishing loons in their former breeding range and helping populations recover in areas where they are declining. The Common Loon is a key indicator of the environmental health of our lakes and streams; a decrease in loon population is a sure sign of pollution or other environmental degradation. To carry out the project, the largest conservation study of the Common Loon ever undertaken, the Foundation selected the Biodiversity Research Institute, one of the world’s leading authorities on emerging threats to wildlife and ecosystems. BRI is focusing on three regions—Wyoming/Montana, Minnesota, and Massachusetts—areas that represent the greatest need and the highest potential for restoration success. The Foundation’s hope is that this project will advance our understanding of loon ecology and allow us to apply that knowledge to help restore the integrity of ecosystems where loons once thrived.
The financial-services giant now known as TD Ameritrade began life as a small Omaha- based investment banking firm called First Omaha Securities that was started in 1975 by Joe Ricketts and three partners. First Omaha was one of the first brokerage firms to offer negotiated commissions and, over time, Ricketts bought out his partners to become majority owner.
The following year, Mr. Ricketts became the first member of the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) to be allowed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to share commissions with a financial institution. This milestone opened a new era in the securities marketplace by establishing third-party discount brokerage services for financial institutions, banks, and credit unions.
In 1983, First Omaha established itself as a clearing broker and changed its name to Ameritrade Clearing. Five years later, under Mr. Ricketts’ leadership, it began a major push into digital technology that changed the face of financial services, introducing the first quote-and-order entry system using a touch-tone telephone. In 1994, Ricketts established Ceres Securities, Inc., which offered $18 flat-rate trading and rapidly became the fastest growing brokerage firm in the nation. The following year, Ameritrade acquired K. Aufhauser & Company, Inc., which, with its WealthWeb, was the first firm to offer securities trading over the Internet, receiving its first online order in August of 1994.
In 1996, Ameritrade introduced its acclaimed Accutrade for Windows software – the first computer software that allowed independent investors to use the same tools as big institutions (program trading and basket trading). Later that same year, Ricketts established eBroker, an Internet-only brokerage firm that grew rapidly as Internet-savvy consumers discovered the convenience of discount brokerage on the Web.
This multiple-branding strategy, designed to test cost reduction, service, and pricing levels through different companies, produced invaluable marketing information. The new, consolidated brokerage firm Ameritrade, Inc., which went public in 1997, was built on this wealth of market knowledge. Ameritrade brought together Ceres, Aufhauser and eBroker into one new firm with a powerful combination of services and the lowest pricing in the marketplace, designed to build market share with the best value for its customers.
In 2001, Ameritrade acquired TradeCast, giving it a presence in the business-to- business arena, and National Discount Brokers Corporation, which added $6.3 billion in client assets. Over the next three years, Ameritrade merged with Datek Online Holdings Corporation, and then acquired Mydiscountbroker.com, Bidwell and Company, BrokerageAmerica, and JB Oxford and Company.
Finally, in 2005 Ameritrade announced the acquisition of TD Waterhouse USA, creating the combined entity TD Ameritrade in 2006. Today, TD Ameritrade is the world’s largest online brokerage, managing hundreds of billions of dollars in client assets and leads its competitors with hundreds of thousands of trades per day.
In October 2009, a trust that Joe and Marlene Ricketts established on behalf of their family acquired a 95-percent controlling interest in Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, as well as 25 percent of Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.
The Ricketts family represents the eighth ownership group in the team’s 133-year history. Joe Ricketts has no direct involvement in the team’s day-to-day operations; his son, Tom Ricketts, is Cubs chairman and his three other children (Pete, Laura, and Todd) serve on the board of directors.