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Furse, Clara

Furse, Clara

Career
Sidelights
Sources

Chief Executive Officer of London Stock Exchange

B orn Clara Hedwig Frances Siemens, September 16, 1957, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; daughter of Herman W. (an aluminum company executive) and Cornelie Siemens; married Richard Furse (a banker), 1981; children: two sons, one daughter. Education: London School of Economics, B.S., c. 1979.

Addresses: Office—London Stock Exchange plc, Paternoster Square, London EC4M 7LS, England.

Career

A gricultural commodities trader with Heinold Commodities Ltd. 1979-83; Phillips & Drew/ UBS, began in 1983, became director, 1988, executive director, 1992-95, managing director, 1995-96, and global head of futures, 1996-98; deputy chair of London Financial Futures and Options Exchange (LIFFE), 1997-99; group chief executive, Credit Ly-onnais Rouse, 1998-2000; chief executive officer, London Stock Exchange plc, 2001—.

Sidelights

I n 2001, Clara Furse was hired to head the London Stock Exchange (LSE), one of the largest share-trading centers in the world. The first woman ever to serve as chief executive there, Furse, who is known for a sharp intellect combined with formidable management style, has beaten back a series of takeover bids from rivals in both Europe and the United States who covet the LSE’s cache. “Many have taken to calling her Queen Boadicea, the name of an ancient British monarch commemorated with a statue on Westminster Bridge for a revolt she led in 61A.D. against Roman rule,” wrote Suzanne Kap-ner in a New York Times of Furse. “Like Boadicea, whose name means ‘victory’ but has become synonymous with terror and savagery, Mrs. Furse has developed a reputation for toughness.”

The daughter of an aluminum executive, Furse was born Clara Hedwig Frances Siemens in Montreal, Canada, in 1957. On her father’s side were wealthy industrialists who had founded an electrical-goods empire in Germany in the nineteenth century, but their descendants were forced to flee Germany when the Nazi Party rose to power. Furse’s grandfather and other relatives were then jailed when Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands during World War II. Her father’s job took them to Colombia and Denmark, but the family had settled in England by the time Furse reached her teens. After finishing at St. James’s School in Malvern, she went on to earn a degree in economics from the prestigious London School of Economics.

Furse began her career in the financial markets in 1979 as an agricultural commodities trader. In 1983, she moved on to a branch of UBS, a financial services company whose name represents one of its founding companies, the Union Bank of Switzerland. Five years later, she was named a company director and became an executive director in 1992. Her career rise had come thanks to her prowess in overseeing the derivatives market for the bank, a specialized area of finance sometimes called the futures market. As Kirstie Hamilton explained in a London Sunday Times article, London’s “futures traders are not pin-striped gentlemen—they are louts in brightly coloured jackets. While equity traders deal from behind banks of computer screens, until recently futures trading was conducted in rough-and-tumble fashion in pits on the floor of the exchange. A woman venturing on to the floor could expect cat calls and leers at the very least; whatever their sex, only the tough survived.”

Furse was promoted to managing director at UBS in 1995 and global head of its futures division a year later. In 1997, she took a concurrent post as deputy chair of London Financial Futures and Options Exchange (LIFFE), the hub of the derivatives market in Britain. During her two-year stint at LIFFE, she pushed for the installation of an electronic tradition system, instead of the traditional verbal “open out-call” format used by floor traders. She held her ground over tremendous resistance to change, and LIFFE’s chief executive, Daniel Hodson, actually resigned over the battle. Her mettle won the attention of the directors of a French bank, Credit Lyonnais Rouse, however, and she was tapped as the new group chief executive for the derivatives division in 1998. During her two years on the job, she enacted serious cost-cutting measures to help rescue the ailing Credit Lyonnais Rouse, including elimination of 60 percent of the workforce.

In a surprise announcement, Furse was named as the newest chief executive for the London Stock Exchange in January of 2001. The LSE is one of the oldest institutions in the City, as the central square mile of London is called which is home to its banking and financial services sector. Founded in 1760 as an informal club for share-traders at the nearby Jonathan’s Coffee House, and the LSE became the London Stock Exchange in 1773. By the time Furse became its chief executive, the LSE was the busiest exchange in Europe in terms of volumes of shares traded daily. Its internal workings, however, were plagued by internecine squabbles and financial mismanagement. The three chief executives who held the job before Furse had not lasted very long, nor were they judged to have had much of success in overseeing the LSE.

For generations, the LSE was owned solely by the stockbrokers who had seats on the exchange, and it developed a reputation as a clubby, insular body that was wary of outsiders. When Furse came on board, a new, more transparent era began, and for the first time shares of the LSE were listed on the exchange itself. This meant that investors other than LSE stockbrokers could own a stake in it and, therefore, had more say in its management and future direction. During the next few years Furse oversaw a period of great financial growth at the LSE, with its share price and earnings performing well. It became an attractive property, and she fought off a series of takeover bids from Swedish, German, and Australian suitors; even the U.S. giant NASDAQ (National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations) was tempted to make an offer, but Furse rejected the bids as not high enough for such a prestigious, venerable institution.

Furse’s critics assert that she has not pursued mergers with or acquisitions of other exchanges aggressively enough, but the man who appointed her to the job, chairperson Don Cruikshank, backed her strategy, telling Guardian journalist Simon Bowers that “people don’t realise how tough it is to be the aggressor when you’re up against German, French, Spanish competitors—all of whom have enjoyed government protections. If Clara was to turn around and make a bid for Nasdaq it would need to be approved by the U.S. government.” Finally, in 2007 LSE did make its first purchase, acquiring Milan’s Borsa Italia for $2 billion.

Furse has been married since 1981 to a former Bar-ings Bank executive and has three children. Occasionally the demands of her job force her to put in long hours, and as the Christmas holidays of 2006 approached, she was forced to cancel Caribbean vacation plans as the potential crisis regarding the NASDAQ offer loomed. She held a drawing at the office for the villa in St. Lucia she had already booked, and a LSE secretary won the prize. In a rare interview, Furse dismissed the idea that being a woman in the financial-services world was a challenge. “I’ve never found there to be an anti-female thing in the City,” she told Julia Kollewe in the Independent. “Maybe I’ve been lucky but I don’t think so.”

Sources

Economist, January 27, 2001, p. 8.

Financial Times, January 27, 2001, p. 11.

Guardian (London, England), August 24, 2007, p. 23.

Independent (London, England), November 5, 2005, p. 50.

New York Times, June 3, 2001; January 28, 2005.

Sunday Times (London, England), January 28, 2001, p. 5.

—Carol Brennan

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