You have to do your job knowing some groups will not always get what they want.’

John Tuttle broke one ankle and then another in his early twenties, and neither happened while playing his beloved football. He hasn’t broken anything since as he’s climbed the ladder from a White House intern to the New York Stock Exchange.

Tuttle currently is Vice Chairman and Chief Commercial Officer for NYSE Group. He joined the NYSE when he was twenty-five, accepting an offer from a mentor who asked him to spend ‘just six months’ on Wall Street. Now, at thirty-nine, ‘I’m one of the most tenured people here,’ Tuttle joked.

Spend just a little time with Tuttle and you find he has that mix of intelligence, humility and humour that makes him impressive. He’s also the type of person who aspiring chiefs of staff ought to pay attention to; his personal and professional paths that led him to where he is now serve as important reminders that skill and luck contribute to success.

He recalls his early twenties being a period when ‘I was in a hurry, but I just didn’t know where
I was going.’ That impatience came with a valuable lesson for him that he can share with others: Demonstrate excellence in everything you do, and people will notice. And then don’t be surprised when those people call, perhaps when you least expect it, and offer you a tremendous opportunity.

He has received two such phone calls.

Tuttle received the first one soon after graduating college, asking if he’d join the State Department. Someone who mentored him during his days as a White House intern had moved to the State Department, and he knew there was something in Tuttle that would make him the right fit for a position there. Oh, and that mentor wanted Tuttle in Washington in less than a week. Obviously, Tuttle accepted.

Tuttle’s first day on the job also was the first day Condoleezza Rice was Secretary of State; although Tuttle spoke only briefly about her during a recent interview, it’s quite clear he maintains a deep admiration for Rice. He stayed only a couple of years at the State Department, before leaving to pursue his MBA, but in that time, he witnessed Secretary Rice and her team deal with incredibly powerful and sometimes awful moments in disparate challenging places such as Kosovo, South Sudan and Kashmir while also celebrating some of humanity’s best potential at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

His phone rang again as he wrapped up his MBA. On the other end of the line was another person who had watched him deliver on that promise of excellence while Tuttle was at the State Department. He asked Tuttle to come to New York to assist in what Tuttle now calls the ‘biggest transformation’ in the NYSE’s 200-year history, as it moved from ‘a quasi-public utility’ into a ‘for-profit, publicly traded, multi-asset class and multi-geography class’ organisation. Tuttle took on the task, presuming he’d be in New York less than one year.

Remember, that was fourteen years ago.

By 2013, he had become the Chief of Staff for the Exchange’s CEO. His years in that role provided him the chance to offer a master class in how to succeed in that position.

Most importantly, a top-notch chief of staff—whether he or she is operating in the public or private sector—must put the institution and the principal ahead of any personal ambition.
A ‘high curiosity quotient’ also is essential, Tuttle says, because you must see the potential connections between organisational units even when the leaders of those units don’t. Tuttle maintains that chief of staff must know what each unit does and needs and how it might be improved. You get a ‘holistic view’ of an organisation, and the only other person who also gets that is the CEO, he adds.

Next, being honest—with everyone—is a must. ‘You have to do your job knowing some groups will not always get what they want,’ Tuttle said. Chiefs of staff are the eyes, ears and proxy of the CEO, Tuttle maintains, and that means they might at times have to remind a disappointed colleague that they’re delivering the same message the CEO would if that principal were standing there.

‘You have to do your job knowing some groups will not always get what they want.’

Being honest also carries over into the relationship with the principal, according to Tuttle. ‘Your principal needs someone who tells it straight, but is also right,’ he said. ‘Direct feedback’ is essential, Tuttle added, and he maintains every professional, no matter his or her title, needs that.

A successful chief of staff also must be a voracious consumer of quality information, which then must be synthesized for the principal. Of course, there will be times when necessary information can’t be immediately uncovered. When those moments happen, there’s only one correct course of action: Pick up the phone and get in touch with the person who knows. ‘Call the governor or whoever it might be,’ Tuttle says. ‘Start at the top of the food chain, not the bottom.’

While the Rolodex itself might be a bit antiquated these days, the value of a network never will be. Tuttle discussed the importance of his network in multiple ways during a recent interview. One theme rang through in all those references to his network: Leverage it, every single day. In an era in which news comes at us instantaneously and through multiple channels, conflicting information is inevitable. The individuals in our respective networks can assist in making sense of the data or the resources we need.

Tuttle’s how-to-succeed-as-a-chief-of-staff list ends with this: ‘You don’t get anything done unless you’re in the office, but you don’t learn anything unless you get out of the office.’

Tuttle considered there are some attributes elite athletes and chiefs of staff share. ‘They love to win; they are intellectually curious; and they are willing to grow,’ Tuttle said.

For Tuttle, growing meant stepping away from a chief of staff role.

In 2016, Tuttle’s trajectory within the NYSE again changed when he was tasked with heading the global listings unit. As chief of staff, Tuttle had what he called ‘a 10,000-foot understanding’ of what it did, but now he needed to be ‘under the hood’ and lead necessary change. Subsequent promotions have followed, and Tuttle believes that he’s taken one valuable concept learned as a chief of staff into all those roles: ‘Have a view, have a view, and have a view.’

Because of his age and impressive resume, the inevitable question about what’s next hovers over Tuttle. He laughs off such talk, saying that ‘I have no idea what I’m having for dinner tonight, but I do know what my principal is having.’ But soon he becomes introspective.

The New York Stock Exchange ‘is a very special place,’ Tuttle says, and it’s undergone two major transformations during his time there. He acknowledges that the Exchange’s biggest challenge is to ensure that entrepreneurs and investors can more effectively be brought together. Tuttle believes ‘talent and intellect are equally distributed’, but that the same cannot be said for opportunity. ‘We need to democratize opportunity,’ he says so that any person anywhere in the world can find that right person and that right moment to turn an idea into a potential life-changing venture.

Excellence. It’s what drives Tuttle. ‘Excellence is the only thing worth waking up for in the morning.’ Excellence, and perhaps those chances to watch his beloved football throughout the fall.

John Tuttle is Vice Chairman and Chief Commercial Officer for NYSE Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange, Inc. (NYSE: ICE). As a member of the senior leadership team, Tuttle leads NYSE’s Global Listings, Capital Markets, and Exchange Traded Products businesses, and is responsible for managing the Exchange’s relationships with more than 2,300 NYSE-listed companies and with the Investment Banking, Private Equity, Venture Capital, and Legal communities. In addition, he leads the NYSE’s business development efforts for Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), Direct Listings, Exchanges Traded Funds (ETFs), Structured Products, Closed-End Funds, and REITs listing on NYSE or NYSE-American.