Enjoy complimentary access to top ideas and insights — selected by our editors. Under Adena Friedman, Nasdaq is on the verge of achieving its biggest milestone yet in the company’s evolution. In June, Nasdaq announced a $10.5 billion deal to acquire Adenza Inc., a software company specializing in risk management and regulatory compliance. Initially, investors were apprehensive, resulting in a 10% drop in the company’s stock price. However, the stock has since recovered some of its losses. For Friedman, this deal represents a long-standing goal she has pursued since becoming Nasdaq’s CEO in 2017: solidifying the company’s position as a leading technology provider to financial institutions, including banks. The transaction is expected to be finalized by late 2023 or early 2024.
“We have noticed that financial institutions worldwide are increasingly seeking partners who can truly collaborate with them and help address their most challenging problems,” said Friedman, the first woman to lead a global stock exchange. “At Nasdaq, we have a deep understanding of the banks’ most pressing challenges, such as combating financial crime, managing liquidity requirements, and executing world-class risk management programs. We leverage advanced technology in our engagements with them.”
Prior to the Adenza deal, Nasdaq’s largest acquisition was its purchase of Verafin for $2.75 billion in 2021. Verafin provides software and technology to banks and credit unions for detecting financial crimes. Friedman, originally from Baltimore, has a background in finance, as her father was the chief investment officer at T. Rowe Price. She joined Nasdaq as an intern in 1993 and has held various leadership positions within the company. She also played a key role in numerous acquisitions, including INET, OMX, and the Philadelphia and Boston stock exchanges. After temporarily leaving Nasdaq in 2011 to serve as CFO at Carlyle Group, she returned in 2014 and was appointed CEO. She also became the chair of the board in January, succeeding Michael Splinter, who now serves as the lead independent director.
The main challenge in Nasdaq’s transformation into a tech company has been preserving the culture that drove its previous successes, according to Friedman. However, this transition comes with new challenges, particularly in attracting digital talent, as competition in the tech industry is fierce. Nasdaq relies on its purpose and its role in the economy to attract individuals. Friedman stated, “If a young technologist wants to make an impact in the financial system and work on challenging technical problems, there is no better place than Nasdaq to work.”
Friedman has also made efforts to make a difference in other areas as Nasdaq’s CEO and chair. One of her notable initiatives is aimed at bringing more transparency to board diversity at companies listed on Nasdaq’s U.S. exchange. Under the board diversity rule, approved by regulators in 2021, Nasdaq requires its listed companies to disclose data on board-level diversity annually. Starting from the end of 2023, companies must have at least one diverse director or provide an explanation if they cannot meet this requirement. By the end of 2025, companies must have at least two diverse directors, and small-cap companies have until the end of 2026 to comply. Although the rule has faced legal challenges, it has already had an impact, with an increase in diversity policies among Nasdaq-listed companies.
Nasdaq’s recent achievement includes securing the high-profile IPO of Arm Holdings Ltd., a semiconductor designer backed by Softbank Group. Nasdaq’s success in this competitive market was attributed in part to the incentives it offered Arm and a face-to-face meeting between Friedman and Softbank founder Masayoshi Son in Japan. This IPO has helped improve Nasdaq’s image and has been seen as a catalyst for the IPO market.
Aside from her professional achievements, Friedman holds a second-degree black belt in taekwondo and is an avid pickleball player. She has served as a Class B director to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York since 2018 and sits on the boards of FCLTGlobal, a nonprofit promoting long-term investing, and Vanderbilt University, where she earned her MBA.