Xavier Rolet and the bitter scrap that split the City

When the London Stock Exchange (LSE) announced the departure of its chief executive Xavier Rolet in October, the group’s chairman, City grandee Donald Brydon, was effusive about his “remarkable achievements”, says the FT. But it didn’t take long for the exchange’s “careful choreography” to unravel. Within a fortnight the Children’s Investment Fund – a 5% LSE shareholder run by the activist investor Sir Christopher Hohn – had accused the board of unfairly sacking Rolet, and concealing the fact by inserting gagging clauses in his exit deal.

Hohn called for Rolet to be reinstated and for Brydon to be fired, triggering a bitter dispute that has “split the City” and wounded the exchange so badly that some fear it “could fall victim to an opportunistic takeover bid”, says The Sunday Times. The LSE has now sought to draw a line under the affair – and both men are out. Rolet is stepping down with immediate effect; Brydon will not seek reelection in 2019.

Bold but domineering

Rolet’s own views on the imbroglio are unknown because of the gag in his contract. But it has doubtless been a frustrating period for the “ferociously bright, incredibly decisive and very opinionated” former Lehman Brothers investment banker. He is a “charismatic figure” who, as one former adviser notes, often operates “in broadcast mode”, says the FT. Rolet’s bold, risk-taking style won “many devotees among investors” who have profited from a 700% rise in the shares since his arrival in 2009. But the same qualities haven’t always endeared him to colleagues and board members. Rolet, 58, can be “domineering and rude”.

He’s also a “ridiculous name-dropper”, a senior City insider told The Sunday Times. Before this year’s French election, he dropped “heavy hints that there was something big in store for him” if his friend, Emmanuel Macron, gained power. It didn’t work out that way. The keen beekeeper and winegrower may now be spending more time at his Provence estate, “counting the £30m of pay and bonuses” accrued in his time at the LSE.

A few close scrapes

Anyone scrutinising Rolet’s “tailored suits and perfect English” would assume that he’s “typical of the posh Frenchies” who have invaded the City in recent years, says the London Evening Standard. His actual background couldn’t be more different. Born in north Africa to military parents caught up in the Algerian war of independence, he grew up poor in a “barre” (a concrete block of flats) in the drab Parisian suburb of Sarcelles.

Intensely “cerebral”, Rolet got a good break with his education – the French state system back then could really deliver, he says – and ended up in the US doing an MBA at Columbia University. It was always a childhood dream, he says, to be “able to make money. To master your own destiny and get recognition, autonomy, independence.” And, having decided on a career in banking, he swiftly advanced, says the FT. Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary, talent spotted him for a job at Goldman Sachs, from where he eventually moved on to senior position at Lehman.

As a former rally driver, Rolet revels in “close scrapes”, once describing how his 4×4 was shunted off the edge of a precipice by a Russian driver as they roared across the dunes of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile .“They don’t take prisoners, those guys.” As he heads back to his bees and wine in Provence, the former LSE chief may well reflect that the same can be true of City grandees.