Plot to save London Stock Exchange chief executive Xavier Rolet risks triggering a messy exit

 
Julian Harris
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London Stock Exchange CEO Xavier Rolet a
Rolet took over the London Stock Exchange in 2009 (Source: Getty)

Successful leaders can be difficult to work with. From Margaret Thatcher to Alex Ferguson, people at the top are frequently characterised as stubborn, uncompromising and aggressive, provoking inevitable feuds with anyone who questions their approach.

Examples abound in the business world too, where singleminded and determined senior figures turn boardrooms into corporate battlegrounds. Sometimes this results in an irreconcilable split between executive and non-executive and the surprising departure of a high-performing CEO. Harriet Green, to name just one instance, was pushed out of Thomas Cook back in 2014 despite lifting the firm's market cap from around £150m to nearly £2bn in little over two years.

Another such case seems to be unfolding at the London Stock Exchange, which announced last month that CEO Xavier Rolet would depart the institution next year. The announcement was conciliatory and lauded Rolet's achievements since taking the reins in 2009. The Frenchman has, after all, turned an £800m exchange into a near-£14bn global behemoth.

Read more: London Stock Exchange appoints City law firm Schillings in shareholder battle

Since the statement was made, however, activist investor Sir Chris Hohn has blown the lid on an apparent clash between Rolet and chairman Donald Brydon, with the latter now forced to publish a document shedding more light on the chief exec's departure. Board members are debating to what extent they should allude to Rolet's supposedly obstructive traits.

To people he meets, the former Lehman banker does not come across as boisterous or domineering. On the contrary he appears polite, meticulous, and – for a chief exec – fairly quietly-spoken. He is fascinated by detail, effusive in praise for his staff, and can bang on about the LSE until the cows come home.

Whether or not this masks a more difficult side to his personality, Rolet's position now looks perilous. A seismic victory for Hohn would keep the CEO in place and likely result in a string of board-level resignations – but the billionaire philanthropist faces an uphill struggle. If he fails to convince enough shareholders to join this extraordinary protest, he risks achieving little more than the public airing of the stock exchange's dirty laundry. In such an eventuality Rolet's planned departure, leaving at a time of his choosing and with his head held high after an impressive run, could turn into a considerably more rushed and messy exit.

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