It once was one of the most backward stock exchanges in Europe. Now, Frankfurt's Deutsche Borse is an international powerhouse spurring change in the way securities are traded across Europe. The driving force behind the transformation: Werner G. Seifert, CEO of the Borse since 1993.
Time and again, Seifert, 50, has challenged the established order and won. But it was just last April that he pulled off his biggest coup yet: a merger between Deutsche Borse and its erstwhile archrival, the London Stock Exchange. The new entity, to be known as iX, will account for 53% of all traded volume in Europe. Although the merger came close to unraveling because of hostility from some institutions in Frankfurt, Deutsche Borse's board voted in favor of it on May 23. Now, it's expected that members of the LSE will do the same when they meet in September. Seifert will be CEO if the deal is approved.
Seifert's earlier coups include taking on the London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange, where the lion's share of German government bond contracts were then traded. By merging Frankfurt's fledgling derivatives exchange with its Swiss counterpart in 1997 to create Eurex--an all-electronic exchange--he lured 95% of the business back within a year, causing near-panic in the City. Eurex is now the biggest derivatives exchange in the world. Seifert was also the brains behind the Neuer Markt, which was established in March, 1997, and quickly became the dominant market for high-growth stocks in Europe.
Forceful and frank, Seifert is as unpopular as he is respected. "Negotiating with him is like negotiating with a tank," says a senior official at one Continental exchange. Born in Switzerland, Seifert did an internship at Deutsche Bank before spending seven years at McKinsey & Co. and six years at Swiss Re. In his spare time, he's a jazz lover and pianist.
The key to Seifert's success, say both rivals and peers, is his understanding of what stock exchange customers want--namely, cheap, efficient trading. "We are building a business," he says. "Maybe other stock exchanges lost sight of that fact." If so, Seifert will be there to exploit their lack of foresight.