E*Trade has gained a reputation for revolutionizing online stock trading and financial services, and Christos Cotsakos, its Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board, has gained recognition as its pioneering visionary and head honcho.
Mr. Cotsakos, who volunteered to go to Vietnam, credits his experiences as a fire team leader as a “character-defining experience.” Assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry with the 101st Airborne Division, he “loved the camaraderie, duty, honor, and country,” he told WP, the magazine of his alma mater, William Paterson College in New Jersey.
“Being alive took on a whole new meaning,” said Cotsakos, who grew up in Paterson, the son of a short-order cook. “After Vietnam, my outlook on life changed: you’re not only remembered by who you live with, you’re also remembered by who you choose to die with. Camaraderie, trust, and loyalty became the hallmarks that I now live by.”
After being severely wounded, Mr. Cotsakos returned home determined not to waste his life. Despite his decorations —they include a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and the Army Commendation Medal—Cotsakos, who barely made it through high school, could not land a job. He was accepted to William Paterson College—his tuition was paid by the GI Bill, an alumni scholarship, and by working odd jobs—and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications. Not willing to starve in pursuit of an acting career, he persisted his way into a job as a cargo handler for $3 an hour with a new company called Federal Express.
When he left FedEx 19 years later, he had occupied several senior executive positions, and had earned his MBA. After serving as president, chief operating officer, co-chief executive officer, and a director of A.C. Nielsen, Inc., he was hired in 1996 as President, Chief Executive Officer, and a director of E*Trade. Three years later, he was promoted to Chairman and CEO.
Under his leadership, E*Trade is the fastest-growing online brokerage in the business and is striving to become a one-stop financial supermarket. Mr. Cotsakos has also had the satisfaction of publishing three books, including the national bestseller, It’s Your Money.
Photo Courtesy Mark Richards/Time Digital