Money makers: The diva of divorce

Ayesha Vardag
Ayesha Vardag: you want her on your side

“If you ever spy your wife or husband in discussion with Ayesha Vardag, you might need to panic,” says Will Smale at the BBC. Nicknamed “the diva of divorce”, she is one of the world’s most sought after, high-profile divorce lawyers who specialises in helping wealthy individuals to get the best possible settlements when their marriages end.

Born in Oxford and raised by a single mum, Vardag did well at grammar school, and then studied law at Cambridge University. A career working in financial and commercial law in the City of London followed, until in 2000 her own “not amicable divorce” made her switch to family law, and specifically handling divorce cases.

After a few years of working for other firms and lecturing at Queen Mary University, she launched her own legal practice and decided to “network like mad” to get herself known. Today, she charges £795 per hour plus tax and London-headquartered Vardags, which she started 12 years ago, has revenues of more than £10m a year. With 55 lawyers in five offices around the UK, she has “done much to help cement the city’s reputation as ‘the divorce capital of the world’”.

Could vertical farms save the planet?

With the global population rising at high speed, farmland shrinking, and more people moving to urban areas, the idea of vertical farms in cities has long been a dream. But as Bowery Farming has raised $20m for its “post-organic” vertical farm, bringing its total take to $27.5m, “indoor farming” is turning “from fantasy to reality”, says
Amy Feldman on Forbes.com.

Bowery’s co-founder and chief executive Irving Fain started his career as an investment banker at Citigroup, ran marketing at iHeartMedia and co-founded CrowdTwist, before turning to food.
In 2014 he teamed up with David Golden – who had previously co-founded and run LeapPay, a business loan provider – and Brian Falther, a mechanical engineer in automotive manufacturing. They began looking at how technology might enable better farming.

Bowery relies on computer software, LED lighting and robotics to grow leafy greens without pesticides and with 95% less water than traditional agriculture. With pricing similar to organics, Bowery sells six varieties of leafy greens to Whole Foods and Foragers, two grocery firms. By locating near cities, indoor farms have less impact on the environment and by controlling its environment Bowery can produce its greens 365 days a year. As a result, “the firm can produce 100 times more greens than a traditional outdoor farm occupying the same sized footprint”.

The humble man behind a global phenomenon

Success stories about start-ups don’t get much more compelling than the humble tale of Instagram, says Josie Cox in The Independent. Seven years ago, Stanford University graduates Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger created the photo-sharing app working out of an old pier in San Francisco.

Initially they wanted to develop something to help people connect and “tell their story”, but it took nine months until “we found out what that thing actually was”, Krieger recalls in The Guardian. Today Instagram has 700 million registered users and more than 400 million people visit the platform every day. Its logo, depicting a stylised camera, is recognised worldwide and “it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call the app a fundamental part of popular culture”. The firm, which was bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1bn, is also a “crucial publicity platform” for many companies for one simple reason: it’s free.

Krieger is today Instagram’s chief technology officer and, although he’s estimated to be worth around $300m, “he doesn’t exude any of the haughtiness that some of his fellow Silicon Valley executives do”, says Cox. In between trips around the world, recruitment drives and other engagements, the Brazilian-born software engineer is “not afraid to roll his sleeves up and do the legwork”; he still tries to code as often as possible.

The unconventional Dutch trading firm that cornered the ETF market

At a reclaimed dockyard far from the financial quarters in Amsterdam is the largest trading floor for exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in Europe. The 110 traders here, along with 30 colleagues in offices elsewhere, traded €640bn in ETFs last year and at least that much again in futures, commodities, bonds, stocks, and foreign exchange. The trading volumes are those of a major Wall Street bank, but the in-house pub, with “arcade games, pool table, and giant television”, is “pure start-up”, says Will Hadfield in Bloomberg. Welcome to the headquarters of Flow Traders, “one of the world’s most successful algorithmic trading firms”.

The company’s offices aren’t the only unconventional thing about it. Flow Traders is also “pretty unusual” for a high-speed trading firm in using a “more mathematically intensive (and expensive) approach” to eliminate as much risk as possible. “When Flow Traders was formed, the idea was to have a good night’s sleep,” says Sjoerd Rietberg, who serves as co-chief executive officer alongside Dennis Dijkstra.

Flow Traders was set up 13 years ago by Roger Hodenius and Jan van Kuijk, who had previously worked at Optiver, another Dutch trading firm, and had realised that ETFs would become a major asset class. “Their timing was fantastic”: Amsterdam’s Financial Markets Authority didn’t begin to discuss high-frequency trading until 2006 and Optiver didn’t set up its own ETF desk until the following year. Yet investors had already begun “shovelling money into ETFs”: assets under management rose from $319bn in 2004 to $2.4trn in 2013. Today, Flow Traders handles around one-third of all ETF trades in Europe.

Despite that, the firm is set for its biggest transformation since it was founded, with plans to move into currency trading in a big way, says Hadfield. Flow Traders needs to find new ways to grow: in the first three months of 2017 its profits dropped 41% as quiet markets reduced the trading opportunities available to it. Greater competition from established trading firms moving into new areas means that Flow Traders is fighting for market share. So for all its success, the company now stands at a crossroads. “Its distinctive approach to algorithmic trading could enable it to colonise other financial markets – or it could shrivel as rivals attack its core ETF business.”