London Stock Exchange – blue blood in the City after shoot out

“Quentin Tarantino couldn’t have written it better. After weeks of everyone at the London Stock Exchange pointing guns at each other, Reservoir Dogs-style, on Wednesday they all pulled the trigger.

“The final scene: Xavier Rolet takes one to the head, Donald Brydon reels from a gutshot, hedge funder Sir Chris Hohn makes a break for it, only to meet a hail of bullets offstage.

“A gory, unedifying, end to a film that, though being great box office, leaves all the cast bloodied.

“Rolet looks truculent in the extreme. Despite his “what, me?” statement today condemning the “unwelcome publicity” around his departure, it’s hard to believe he couldn’t have stopped all this weeks ago by having a quiet word with Hohn — through intermediaries if the gagging order on him prevented direct contact.

“Clearly, and understandably, he was miffed about getting the boot. But by letting the row run for so long, he has self-immolated a successful next career in City chairmanships. Who would hire him now? The manner of his ending will overshadow his extraordinary achievements turning the LSE around.”

This is columnist Jim Armitage in yesterday’s Evening Standard in London.

“This whole film would be fun were it not for the fact that the LSE is weakened just as it needs to be at its strongest.

“The Stock Exchange is about as essential to the City’s future financial dominance as you can get, and with Brexit coming, it has rarely been so challenged by EU rivals.

“The only character to emerge with reputation enhanced, is Mark Carney. Back in the day, the Governor of the Bank of England could order companies into line with a raise of the eyebrow. Carney lifted his beetle brow yesterday, declaring himself “mystified” by the whole affair. Within 24 hours, the squabble was over.”

The announcement from the London Stock Exchange Group came yesterday. Xavier Rolet said in the statement: “Since the announcement of my future departure on 19 October, ‎there has been a great deal of unwelcome publicity, which has not been helpful to the Company. At the request of the Board, I have agreed to step down as CEO with immediate effect. I will not be returning to the office of CEO or director under any circumstances. I am proud of what we have achieved during the past eight and a half years.”

CFO David Warren took over on £700,000 salary as interim, after 5 years at LSE and previously 9 years as CFO at NASDAQ. The Chairman of the Board, Donald Brydon, announced he would not seek a new term at the London Stock Exchange Group AGM in 2019.

Brydon paid tribute to “Xavier’s immense – indeed transformative – contribution to the business.” According to one newspaper report in City AM, over 9 years: “Rolet is widely acknowledged to have driven the LSE from a declining, if venerable, City stalwart to a major player on the international scene through acquisitions”,

The Financial Times has a great article on the drama including charts of LSE mergers and acquisitions in the top rank of world stock exchanges since 2005, and changes in the LSE share price compared to that of other exchanges.

The row started on 19 October when it was announced that the Board was looking for a successor for Rolet to leave by the end of December 2018 . That follows Rolet saying he would leave if a $13.8bn merger with Deutche Börse did not succeed – it was blocked by regulators – but then saying he would stay indefinitely. Activist shareholder Sir Chris Hohn of the Children’s Investment Fund (TCI) called for a shareholder meeting to discuss the dismissal in view of Rolet’s excellent track record.

Commentators did not dispute the track record, where Rolet transformed the institution which is at the heart of the City of London’s standing. On 4 Nov, columnist Anthony Hilton wrote this insightful defence of corporate governance and the foolhardiness of overruling the authority of the Board. “The chief executive is accountable to the board, and the board has a duty to tell him or her when it is time to go. What makes it so tough is that the problem invariably lies not with poor-quality bosses, who are relatively easy to show the door; the challenge is reining in those who have done well, those who have shown the vision and skill to move the business to a new and altogether higher level and who have in the process built a significant fan club. But it needs to be done. A major reason why good companies fail is that boards fail to exercise proper control over a successful leader who evolves into an over-mighty chief executive, and are then powerless when he overreaches himself. The danger is hubris.”

According to the FT the row is not yet over. It says the share price of LSE is down 2% since the October announcement, while that of Deutsche Börse is up more than 12%. Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing is the other big winner, up nearly 8&, followed by CME (over 6%). The LSE share price has had a great run under Rolet.

Rolet is on “gardening leave” for the next 12 months on his £800,000 salary, although he tweeted yesterday morning “I doubt if my wife would tolerate me meddling with her vineyard although I do sample the product every now and then”. According to the news his total payout including annual bonus, deferred bonuses and long-term incentives could be up to £13m.

Former London Stock Exchange Group CEO Xavier Rolet is on gardening leave. (Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images)

On 28 Nov, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, said he was “mystified by the debate” but called for “clarity… as soon as possible”. According to City AM newspaper he said: “I can’t envision a circumstance where the CEO [chief executive] stays on beyond the agreed period.”

The Bank, which regulates the London Stock Exchange as owner of LCH (clearing house) had been informed of the LSE’s plans to appoint a new head before Rolet publicly announced his retirement in October, and has been kept updated on progress, Carney said.

Carney hailed Rolet’s “extraordinary contribution” to the LSE.


Xavier Rolet and Donald Brydon in 2013 (photo Royal Mail Group/Getty Images).

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