Presidents and primer ministers are often judged on the impact they make in the first 100 days of their administrations, so why not chief executives? Clara Furse, who fulfils that role at the London Stock Exchange passed the milestone on May 16, so how has she fared?
Just as it would be wrong to blame Furse for any perceived shortcomings of the exchange during the past few months, equally she can hardly claim credit for events that were in motion prior to her appointment. Prime amongst the latter were probably the launch of the central counterparty in February, and developments at AIM. Nonetheless, even though it may be too early to judge by results, there is evidence of a certain change in style of management.
Announcing her appointment at the beginning of the year Don Cruickshank, the LSE chairman highlighted the 43-year-old Furse’s knowledge of “European and global operations” saying it would be of “immense value to the exchange as we widen and strengthen the scope of our European business… and meet the demands of a globalised business environment”. With a CV which boasts positions such as group chief executive of Credit Lyonnais Rouse and managing director of UBS where she spent 15 years, that much was apparent. However it may be her time spent as deputy chairman of Liffe which is the most relevant part of her previous track record.
John Jenkins at London market maker JP Jenkins and Ofex chief certainly believes so. “I think Furse has quite a lot of catching up to do, but she has her experience at Liffe to fall back on. Liffe was going through tremendous changes during her reign, losing its floor and all the other issues which were associated with that.
Although she has a lot on her plate she has the advantage of working on a clean slate, and with a clear mandate to take the LSE forward. She is rising to the challenge as far as I can see, with her promotion of the LSE in Europe and the seeking of dual listings. It is the first time in a long while that we have seen a Chief Executive make a push into Europe. As a European lady she is probably on home ground there.” Although he believes that the iX bid fiasco has put the exchange back a year Jenkins is optimistic. “It is results that count, and it is too early to judge on that basis, but anyone who bangs the drum for us in Europe has got to be good.”
Certainly in terms of marketing, or drum banging, Ms Furse has few peers. The past few months have seen a number of promotional shows around Europe’s capitals, as part of a major international marketing initiative. These have been backed by an advertising blitz in the finance press and online media.
The aim is to attract more international investors to London, but this will also mean more international issuers and intermediaries. As a first step the chief executive has opted to “reposition” AIM and techMARK. Some see this marketing initiative as little more than window dressing, but Furse seems determined to make London more outward looking as it seeks to consolidate its position at the heart of international markets.
These programmes have been a good initiative, but raise questions too, according to John Pierce, chief executive of the Quoted Companies Alliance (QCA), representing smaller companies listed on the exchange. “It all seems pretty positive stuff from the exchange at the moment, particularly with things like Landmark, which I think is going to be particularly beneficial to smaller quoted companies. Putting a regional spotlight on companies should raise their profile among investors.”
The key issue for Pierce is the vacant position of marketing director. “Any chief executive who is in charge of a company which is involved in selling has to wear a marketing hat for a lot of the time,” he says. “And clearly Furse is doing a good job in that respect at the moment. Taking Aim and techMARK to Europe has been a good move, and international marketing is to be encouraged. Hopefully that will help to broaden the shareholding base among smaller companies. The Share Aware campaign was also a success, and the fact that she is taking this route does show how behind the times the exchange was before her arrival,” says Pierce.
Have these initiatives been successful? Claudia Bregsen at Dresdner Bank in Frankfurt believes so. “Her appointment attracted interest initially because of her sex, but the LSE does seem to be adopting a more aggressive approach. Perhaps it is as a result of the iX collapse, however, rather than the arrival of Furse.”
The mid-term report seems to be positive then, but we will have to wait a while before we see the final results of the new international strategy.