Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Michigan Engineer Article - Lori Mirek

By Debbie Feit (BA '88)

Lori Mirek, President and CEO of Currenex, has carved out a position of leadership in the world of online finance.

Lori Mirek (BSE EE '85) is not intimidated by numbers. 

As President and CEO of Currenex, the first online multi-bank global foreign currency exchange, she is immersed in a world where a flow of one trillion dollars a day is the norm and rates can easily change 18,000 times a day. But Mirek's not easily fazed.

"A dollar is a dollar, a yen is a yen. It's easy to represent in an online transaction," she says. "It's not like you're moving lumber."

Currenex, founded in 1999 by Mirek and three friends, brings together worldwide banks, multinational corporations, government agencies and -- perhaps most importantly -- funds, in order to trade on the global foreign exchange market. It works something like this:

First, clients enter the relevant trade details. The quote requests are then routed to a single bank or multiple banks, depending on the client's preference. Banks enter their quotes and the client selects the most desirable one.

"We have customers like MasterCard who do ninety-eight percent of their worldwide foreign exchange through our service," says Mirek. Other Currenex clients include Compaq, Home Depot and Intel Corporation.

So how does an electrical engineering graduate end up a leader in the world of online finance?

Mirek attributes her solid background in understanding technology to her University of Michigan degree and an engineering position with General Motors. This understanding allowed her to design and manage artificial intelligence systems, competitive technology strategies and the first high-end commercial UNIX servers.

An MBA from Harvard gave Mirek the opportunity to learn about all aspects of business and presented a wide range of career options.

"My next series of jobs was all about harnessing technology to address business-to-business needs," she says. "My first post-graduate school position was with a still small Sun Microsystems in product management." After Sun Microsystems, Mirek held senior management positions at Oracle before becoming general manager of Ameritech's electronic commerce business.

From Ameritech, Mirek made the move to Senior Vice President, Head of Worldwide Marketing at Netscape, serving as a corporate officer and member of the six-person executive committee responsible for corporate strategy and marketing. She led a 150-person corporate marketing, enterprise marketing and solution sales organization. She was responsible for creating a unified corporate vision that transformed Netscape into an electronic commerce software and portal-services company. Through acquisition, she became Senior Vice President and General Manager of American Online, where she was responsible for the strategic positioning of the company as well as managing all aspects of sales, marketing and product development within the business-to-business unit.

"Finally, I decided I wanted to try running a startup myself," she explains. "Which is when I founded Currenex with three mentors and colleagues."

In addition to the California headquarters, the company has offices in Chicago, New York, London and Singapore, with satellites in continental Europe. So a typical day for Mirek involves traveling.

"Most often I'm on the road to New York or London due to the concentration of foreign exchange flows in those markets," she says. "But I'm also traveling to anywhere our customers are. So my day is a mix of customer visits, executive team meetings, strategy sessions, press and media engagements, emails, phone calls and airplane flights." All her hard work has certainly paid off:  FX Week has recognized Currenex with the "Best Multi-bank FX Portal" award.

Asked what she appreciates most, Mirek said she ranks "the opportunity from Michigan and Harvard to learn, and the support from my family" pretty high on her list. But as someone who spends countless hours on the computer -- three hours daily for email alone -- Mirek is grateful for one other thing:  "Those 10-hour batteries for the London flights!"

Debbie Feit is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Conde Nast Bride's, Good Housekeeping, American Baby and numerous other publications.

- Michigan Engineer Spring/Summer 2002 (College of Engineering)