Creating The Company Ladder

September 23, 2008
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ADA — "Where am I going?" said Muhammad Rasoul as he drove through Ada in 1997 looking for an address. He was responding to an ad he had seen in the paper about a college internship, but the address was nowhere near his expectation.

The internship was at a brand new brokerage firm, Global Forex Trading, where he would be trading securities. Trading securities was nowhere near his college major.

Name: Muhammad Rasoul
Company: Global Forex Trading
Position: Executive Vice President/ COO
Age: 33
Birthplace: Grand Rapids
Residence: East Grand Rapids
Family/Personal: Married for 12 years to Michelle; three children.
Community/Business Involvement: Serves at the mosque he attends, Baitul Shukur, in administrative roles.
Biggest Career Break: Coming across an ad in the paper for an internship at GFT.

"My focus — at least, I thought my focus — was going to be something in technology," said Rasoul. "I had a lot of experience with technology — informal experience with technology — so I thought that I wanted to write code."

But as a college student, he saw the internship as a way to gain real-life experience and college credit and get paid at the same time. Besides, stocks were something he was familiar with and enjoyed — something he and his father used to do together on Sunday afternoons.

"When I was a kid, my dad was real active in trading stock," said Rasoul, who grew up in Grand Rapids. "My dad would have me go through the Press and pick out stocks, and I had this sample portfolio of make believe stocks and that was always fun for me."

It was their Sunday routine: Worship together. Go to lunch. Go home and spread out the stock page on the living room floor and make stock picks together.

Rasoul eventually found his way to the budding brokerage firm. He drove down a quarter-mile driveway in the woods that led to a large house. At the front door was a man dressed in a suit ringing the doorbell — Rasoul's competition. His eyes traveled to his own college-student attire of Birkenstocks and an un-tucked shirt. "Okay, maybe I'm a little underdressed," he decided.

Despite the casual dress, Rasoul went into the house and interviewed with Gary Tilkin, president and CEO of the company. While interviewing for the position, Rasoul fixed Tilkin's computer and learned about something different than stocks: commodities.

Shortly after the interview, Rasoul received a call saying that Tilkin would like to hire him, but the other candidate was more qualified and the new firm didn't have enough business yet to take him on. Hopefully, in a couple months, an opportunity would be available.

"At the time, my wife and I were about ready to tie the knot, and I'm going, 'I don't know if I can wait two months to get a job," said Rasoul. "Turns out, it was only a week or two later before they called me back and said, 'You have a job if you want it, but it's only three hours a day.'"

Rasoul took the offer anyway. On his first day at work, he sat down and readied himself to receive orders over the phone. He received a warning that the phone was about to start ringing, and once it started, it wouldn't stop.

"I'm thinking, 'OK, whatever. A couple phone calls and we'll be fine.' Five minutes later, (the phones) started to ring," said Rasoul. "It wasn't like one phone call; it was, all of a sudden, all five lines were all red and then everyone is talking fast. I would get the customers, and I could feel the excitement on the other line. Then I would call the exchanges, and I could hear all this yelling and screaming in the background. We could watch what the prices were doing on the charts, and it was the fastest two hours of my life. When it was all done, it was a huge rush. It was like I was addicted after that first day."

Soon Rasoul stopped going to classes, spending eight to 10 hours a day in the office even though he would only get paid for three. When not in the office, Rasoul spent his time at the Cornerstone University library reading books about the markets, different analyses, commodity prices and more.

"It kind of took over my life for the first three years," said Rasoul. "I didn't take a day off from '97 to 2000. I always joke, because when my wife and I got married … I took half a day off of work, went and got married, we went out to dinner, and then I was back to work the next day."

Rasoul's addiction paid off. Since that first day 12 years ago, he has worked his way up through several positions at GFT.

"I've kind of been our 'first of everything' at the company," said Rasoul. "I was our first trader on the desk. I was the first technical support guy. I was our first salesperson. I was our first compliance officer, first intern. I've done most every task that there is to do here."

Now he is GFT's executive vice president/COO, and the company that started with three employees now has more than 250 in offices across the world.

Rasoul spends much of his time traveling to those offices, racking up roughly 120,000 miles in the air. He also receives around 300 to 700 business e-mails per day.

When he does have time off, he spends it with his family.

"Work is such a big part of my existence, particularly with BlackBerrys," said Rasoul. "Whenever I'm not at work, I try to be at home."

He is also part of a local mosque near Jefferson Avenue and Hall Street on the southeast side of Grand Rapids called Baitul Shukur, Arabic for "the house of the appreciative." Here, Rasoul helps out with some administrative responsibilities such as handling bank records and other treasury duties. The mosque is currently trying to raise funds to build a new place of worship, and Rasoul helps write fundraising letters on behalf of the organization.

Going to dog parks, doing yoga, worshipping, running and family activities are how Rasoul prefers to spend his time.

"Family time and work: That's my two main focuses," he said.

The past 12 years have gone by fast for Rasoul. The move from a basement in Ada to offices around the world helps remind him of how much time has gone by and the immense changes that have taken place.

"The landscape's changed quite a bit," said Rasoul. "Nothing reminds me of that more than when we're in some of our other offices — whether it's in Tokyo or in London. London, particularly, is a wonderful office in Citibank's building there, and so it's a very high-profile location. I walk in there and I go, 'Wow. Twelve years ago I was sitting in my sweatpants answering phone calls. Things are quite a bit different now."

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