If silence speaks volumes, it could take years to hear the views of everybody who has yet to opine on the unfolding drama suddenly consuming the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG).
It’s hugely ironic that one of the City’s most bitter boardroom fights for a generation should have engulfed both its most symbolically important company, and at the same time one of its most successful.
Xavier Rolet’s inspired management of the strategic challenges confronting the LSE during the last nine years has only deepened the sense of intrigue surrounding his apparent ousting (Rolexit seems an appropriate term for it).
Given the long-standing relationship between him and Sir Christopher Hohn, founder of The Children’s Investment Fund Management (TCI), it’s hard to believe that the campaign to reinstate Rolet was launched without his approval.
One example of that closeness: the Frenchman was, I’m told, a keynote speaker at a TCI investor conference in New York earlier this year.
Moreover, sources say that the existence of confidentiality agreements relating to Rolet’s ‘retirement’ does not prevent him from publicly distancing himself from TCI’s crusade against Donald Brydon, the LSE Group’s chairman (Bryxit?).
Observers are entitled to question whether Rolet’s continued silence is serving the company’s best interests, and indeed whether – if he gets the three-year extension to his tenure that TCI is pushing for – he could continue to work with any of the existing board.
The LSE’s directors must now prioritise giving investors sufficient clarity about the events which triggered the row.
While their taciturn instincts to date do not offer much encouragement in that direction, insiders acknowledge the need for them to speak in unambiguous terms about the reasons behind last month’s succession announcement.
But the boardroom fracas does not have consequences for the LSEG alone. Its timing is of wider concern. Frankfurt and Paris are leading the charge to leech valuable business from London; and the Brexit-related complexities which helped scupper the LSE’s merger with Deutsche Boerse this year are not about to disappear.
That makes it essential for this row to be resolved swiftly.
Brydon could decide to fall on his sword before next month’s extraordinary general meeting, but that would leave the LSE’s non-executive directors with little choice but to follow suit, having backed their chairman. Regulators, though, would have something to say about anything which looked like fresh instability in a company of the LSE’s systemic importance.
Conversely, TCI might find it doesn’t command the level of support that it’s counting on.
In that scenario, Rolet would surely have to depart immediately, rather than at some undetermined date next year.
Whatever the outcome, investors in the most prestigious of London-listed companies should brace for months of turbulence.
An AIA milestone
$100bn: my number of the week; and you have to look 6,000 miles east from the City to see why.
That was the market cap milestone (in US dollars) nudged for the first time by AIA, Asia’s biggest life insurer.
Compare that to the roughly $31bn (£23.5bn) price-tag at which the company floated in Hong Kong seven years ago, and factor in the lack of inorganic expansion since, and you have an extraordinary growth story by any measure.
It’s enough to have shareholders in Prudential crying into their Chinese tea – the British insurer, remember, made a $35bn offer for AIA which fell foul of regulators and some of those same investors.
But it’s also why shareholders in HSBC have such lofty hopes for the tenure of Mark Tucker, the new chairman of Europe’s largest bank.
Tucker, the former Pru chief exec, also ran AIA during that spectacular growth spurt. Emulate that, if you can, Mr Tucker.
Davis digging holes
No doubt about the most jaw-dropping boardroom move this week: Sir Mick Davis’s prospective appointment as the next chairman of Rio Tinto.
People close to Sir Mick say that if he does take the job, it would not preclude him from continuing in his other main post running the Conservative Party.
I suppose there’s nothing incompatible about the two roles.
One involves working for an organisation which is constantly digging large holes for itself, while the other one entails chairing the board of a global mining company.