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NYSE gets ready for ICEcapades

December 5, 2013, 6:26 PM UTC

Larry Leibowitz said in late November that he’d be leaving the job of chief operating officer of the New York Stock Exchange, and the news got headlines in the New York Post. And just why? Because Leibowitz is the brother of The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and therefore experienced celebrity ruboff.

But there’s actually a riveting story underlying the departure of Leibowitz and other Big Board executives, one that concerns the NYSE itself. It’s in the leadoff stages of a disruptive merger, which rates particular interest because it pairs an upstart and an old-line company. The acquirer is ICE, out of Atlanta and headed by Jeffrey Sprecher, and the acquiree is the exchange’s parent, NYSE Euronext. They’re in the latest Fortune, in an article called
The ICE Man Cometh.

Having made his improbable deal, Sprecher, 58, naturally has people he wants to install at the top—and he did, in fact, bring a COO, Chuck Vice, with him. Sprecher also has thoughts of making the venerable Big Board into the kind of lean machine ICE has always been.

ICE has just over 1,000 employees; NYSE has been pushing 4,000, including contract employees. “The question is,” says Sprecher, “can a 1,000-employee company impart its culture to a 4,000-employee company?”

Asked about his own hours on the job, Sprecher says he gets to work at 8:00 a.m. and stays until 8:00 p.m. “I don’t know how to manage,” he adds. “I just try to set an example.”

Right there with him in his 12-hour days, by the way, is his wife, Kelly Loeffler, 43. She has worked for ICE since 2002 and been married to Sprecher since 2004. Today — this kind of arrangement is clearly not too common in corporate America — she’s a member of his management team. She ran marketing, communications, and investor relations at ICE before the merger and is now doing the same at the combined company.

Sprecher says that whenever ICE has bought a company — and that’s happened aplenty — he’s found a cadre of people eager to work and take on more responsibility.

He’ll be trying to spot them at the exchange, for sure, because its onetime preeminence as a trading venue has been shattered over the last 15 years by new Securities and Exchange rules that encouraged competition in the markets and transformed them into kind of a shopping bazaar. Sprecher bought into this problem knowing it existed. Now the challenge before him is to find the right people, and the right plan, to fix it.