Joseph Sullivan

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Joseph Sullivan

Joseph Sullivan was the founding president of the Chicago Board Options Exchange from 1972-1979. He played a key role in the creation of the CBOE, and stock options, as vice president for planning and market development at the Chicago Board of Trade.[1][2] He passed away on October 2, 2020, at the age of 82. [3]


Sullivan had been The Wall Street Journal’s Capitol Hill reporter, until the then-president of the CBOT, Henry Hall Wilson, hired him as his assistant. He had covered politics for the Journal and was considering writing a book about campaign strategies and techniques after the 1966 elections. He wrote an outline, but never took the time to write the book before the CBOT came calling.[4]

Sullivan was charged with researching how the CBOT might go about creating a new options entity. The exchange was attempting to develop new markets because at that time (the early 1970s) trade in the agricultural markets was slow. [5] [6]

He was responsible for the development of both a central market for options trading with standardized terms and a clearing corporation (now OCC) standing as the opposite party to every transaction.

In 2002, to honor the vision and leadership he provided in making listed options a reality, The Options Industry Council established the Joseph W. Sullivan Options Industry Achievement Award to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the growth and integrity of the U.S. options market.

Sullivan resigned from CBOE in 1978 at the age of 40, telling the New York Times that “I have reached a stage in terms of my own thinking that I have concluded I'm not the guy for a long‐term hitch in this new role." He promised to stay on for a year to allow the exchange to overhaul its governance. He noted in the New York Times story there were no "kind of friction or adversary situation," but the Chicago Tribune would report Sullivan was forced out.[7][8]

In the 1980s, after leaving the CBOE, Sullivan and three former CBOE colleagues and three former JPMorgan executive started a business together called The Option Group.

In a 2016 column, he noted, "The 1980s took me to Wall Street where, along with three former CBOE colleagues and three emigres from J.P. Morgan, we formed a firm called The Options Group. The primary product line turned out to be options analytic software, which we sold with some success for several years to securities brokers, trading firms, and investment banks. But this endeavor was also all-consuming, except for trying to be a good father to my three kids."[9]

After selling The Option Group, he returned to his roots in journalism and his hometown and moved back to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he bought and became owner and publisher of the Metro Pulse. He sold the paper when he turned 65, but continued to write a column. His additional reflections on the period were included in the memoir, "The Advent of the Chicago Board Options Exchange: A Golden Anniversary Memoir by Its Founding President."[10]

The Joseph W. Sullivan Options Industry Achievement Award was established in May 2002 to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the growth and integrity of the U.S. options market.


A native of Knoxville, Tenn., Sullivan graduated from Princeton and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.


  1. Maturing CBOE Confident at 20. Chicago Tribune.
  2. CBOE 40 Years of Innovation. Cboe.
  3. Joseph Sullivan.
  4. The Institution of Experience: Self-Regulatory Organizations in the Securities Industry, 1792-2010. SEC Historical Society.
  5. Negotiating a Market, Performing Theory: The Historical Sociology of a Financial Derivatives Exchange. Paper by Donald MacKenzie and Yuval Millo presented at European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy conference, Siena, November 8-11, 2001.
  6. Three Decades of Options and the World is A-Changin' by Gail Osten. SFO Magazine April 2003.
  7. Sullivan, Option Trading Pioneer, Planning to Leave C.B.O.E.. New York Times.
  9. My Personal Progressions: Let’s Not Call This a Farewell Column Just Yet. Knoxville Mercury.
  10. The Advent of the Chicago Board Options Exchange: A Golden Anniversary Memoir by Its Founding President. Cboe Global Markets.
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