A Lifetime at the Top: How Steve Wunsch ’65 Went From Rock Walls to Wall Street

Sitting in his downtown apartment in New York City, just a few blocks from Ground Zero, Saint Louis Country Day School alumnus Steve Wunsch ‘65 has much to reflect on. He’s been writing books for a few years now, ever since he retired from a career on Wall Street. His books are about his experience in the trading industry, of which he has plenty. But the reality is, his journey up until now includes many more stories than the ink on those pages could ever contain.

Climbing the Mountaintop

When Wunsch was still just a young student at Country Day School, his mother gave him two books—both about mountains. That’s when his love affair with climbing began.

“If I go back far enough, I can pin it on my mother and those books. She was a pioneer of her own sort, as one of the rare female Air Force service pilots (WASPS) who flew in World War II. So naturally, she gave me two books about adventure.”

During those formative years, Wunsch became close friends with several other boys at CDS. One in particular, Dave Perry ‘65, helped further cultivate his love for mountain climbing. Together, they spent a summer at a camp in Colorado called Big Springs Ranch.

“That summer led to my interest in serious climbing,” Wunsch recalled.

From there, Wunsch spent time hiking fourteeners in Colorado. He traveled with his family to Wyoming and other places where he continued to explore. He attended climbing school in Grand Teton National Park, where he learned official climbing and rope handling. He was even a guide there for several summers in subsequent years. Many of those trips included Dave Perry, and some of them included other friends from CDS. By then, climbing was deep in his veins.

“I just kept on climbing,” he said.

After graduating from CDS, Wunsch attended Princeton University, where he studied English. But the mountains kept calling. During school as well as after graduation, he traveled the world to pursue his passion.

“I spent all of my summers climbing, and really every other day that I could get good weather. My friends and I joked that we could have spent 200 days out of the year climbing. That wasn’t a far exaggeration,” he said.

“I traveled around the country to various places where climbing was popular and exciting—the Canadian Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, Yosemite, then to the Alps and mountains in England and Scotland.”

A Future in Futures

After graduating from Princeton, Wunsch was well into his professional climbing career. One winter, after he’d spent an entire fall climbing the Shawangunks mountains, he came home to St. Louis to work for his father, who owned and ran the family’s longstanding book manufacturing company. That season, Wunsch read the Wall Street Journal every day. Soon enough, he found himself with an entirely new passion—interest rate futures trading.

Though he moved back to Boulder, Colorado after working for his father, Wunsch was already hooked on Wall Street. Just a few years later, he wound up in New York selling climbing gear, and within a year after that, he was working on the floor of the AMEX (ACE) commodities exchange. Soon after, he worked in New York futures exchange (NYFE). For eight years, he worked for a firm called Kidder Peabody and was responsible for their their customer stock index futures business.

In the late 80s/early 90s, Wunsch decided to take an even bigger leap into the world of stock exchange trading and created what was later known as the Arizona Stock Exchange. It was the first attempt at trading a particular auction-based stock exchange trading system.

“The idea was to create a more efficient way for buyers and sellers together through an auction system to trade,” he said.

While Wunsch’s idea was ahead of its time, it didn’t quite succeed the first go-round. But, as a man who puts his mind to something, he kept trying. Eventually, he landed with the International Securities Exchange, which at the time was an electronic stock options market, and helped develop a high-frequency stock exchange called the ISE stock exchange.

Recalling His CDS Days

Nearly 10 years retired from Wall Street, Wunsch now spends his time publishing books about his expertise, successes, and yes, even his pitfalls in the trading industry. Though his passions have led him to several different mountaintops, one thing remains certain—he attributes much of his success to his time spent at Country Day School.

“You don’t really know you are pursuing passion when you are doing it. When we were in school, we were mainly focused on having a good time with our friends, playing sports and other activities. But in hindsight, all of it played a role in cultivating my passions—in developing the skills I needed to be successful in life,” he shared.

From soccer with alumni such as Dave Perry and Spencer Burke ‘65 to climbing trees and joining the Opera Club, Wunsch recalls a CDS that was filled with exploration and adventure. He even learned to play the classical guitar during that time, an instrument he still plays today. And much of the credit he gives to his teachers, who devoted immense time and energy into cultivating every students’ passions.

“I had several teachers who were very important to me,” he said. “We constantly learned things that were not on our syllabus. Our teachers were always flexible that way, catering to our own interests—from music theory to probability and statistics. CDS was wonderful in the way it made those things possible.”

Climbing, trading, and writing. Those are just three of Steve Wunsch’s many passions. And when he looks back on it all, he’s glad CDS played a vital role in taking him to the mountaintops of his careers.