Barbarian at the Gate, Exchange Edition
ICE’s Jeffrey Sprecher has a way of getting inside the heads of his competitors. He is obviously in the head of LSE CEO Xavier Rolet, before he’s even formally announced a rival offer for the LSE:
The boss of the London Stock Exchange has dismissed the owner of the New York Stock Exchange as a “slash and burn” organisation which would throw parts of the British bourse “in the bin”.
. . . .
He branded ICE’s ownership of Euronext, the pan-European exchange, as a “disaster,” claiming it had “eviscerated” the four-country exchange platform for cost-cutting.
Mr Rolet, who acknowledged that the LSE’s board would consider any “serious proposal,” made clear that he is not interested in a bid from an “interloper”.
“I don’t want just anyone, particularly not some ‘slash and burn’ type organisation, to come in and kill all of the stuff we’ve done over the last few years,” he said.
“It is not a company based in Atlanta… that is going to worry about the financing of European industry… It’s just not going to be part of their strategy.
“Which is why they chucked out Euronext. They kept the clearing business that they had, and they kept the derivatives engine. And that is not a strategy for British industry. I doubt that this [Aim] would be part of the strategy of any frankly global exchange…Our 1000 Companies programme, that costs money. Our Elite programme, that costs money. All that stuff would be chucked in the bin.”
Rolet sounds like the typical 1980s CEO quaking in fear of a hostile takeover, fussing over every little piece of the empire he built. Which is exactly why everything about Sprecher that Rolet condemns as a bug is a feature.
ICE has an excellent record at making acquisitions work. A crucial reason for that is that Sprecher focuses ruthlessly on value and value creation, and doesn’t have sentimental attachments to particular businesses, especially those that are inefficient and bloated, and which don’t fit strategically within the organization he has built.
He recognized that Euronext was an excessively costly firm in a low margin commoditized business that didn’t offer any synergies to his core derivatives business. So he acquired EuronextLiffe, put Euronext on a diet, and spun it off for a decent price. He kept LIFFE and Euronext’s clearing business and integrated them into the ICE structure in a way that should make other acquirers (I’m looking at you, UAL!) green with envy.
As for sentimental musings about “financing European industry”, if it is so valuable, it would pay. If it doesn’t pay, it’s not valuable. No evident externalities here, and if there are, it’s fantasy to believe that any individual company will be able to internalize it.
As for programs that “cost money”: the question is if they generate an adequate return on that investment. If Aim, or the 1000 Companies program, or the Elite program don’t generate a compensatory return, they deserve to be binned or restructured. If they can earn a compensatory return, believe me, Sprecher won’t bin them. Rolet’s lament bears all the signs of a man who is personally invested in pet projects that he knows don’t pass the value creation test.
Rolet, in other words, sees Sprecher as a latter day Barbarian at the Gates. But if you give it even a superficial look, it is evident that by every measure ICE has been singularly successful at creating value in a very dynamic and competitive exchange and clearing space. If Jeff Sprecher is a barbarian, then civilized CEOs are vastly overrated. Give me the barbarians any day.