HOTTER ON METALS: Abbott’s off; the hunt for a new LME ceo is on

A few weeks ago, the man at the helm of the London Metal Exchange told Charles Li that he was planning to resign.

A few weeks ago, the man at the helm of the London Metal Exchange told Charles Li that he was planning to resign. 

Martin Abbott’s decision to step down as LME ceo at the end of the year was announced on Thursday June 6, surprising metals industry participants, given his appointment just six months ago as co-head of global markets at the exchange’s new owner, Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing (HKEx).

Abbott will have been LME ceo for just over seven years by the time he leaves; that’s two years longer than his predecessor Simon Heale but five years less than David King, the exchange ceo prior to that.

His departure – very amicable, according to both Abbott and HKEx – is a blow to the LME’s new owner, which had hoped Abbott would stay on longer.

But Abbott is off, feeling that his role in the transition of the LME from a not-for-profit organisation to the commercially-run enterprise that it is today, is complete.

Abbott looked at his position within HKEx and concluded he did not want to be pigeonholed into a divisional management position there, people familiar with the matter said.

He was not likely to become the HKEx ceo, and could not really see where he might go. It was a case of leave now and get the next role he really wanted, or stay there for the rest of his career.

He chose to go, with nothing yet lined up but enough money in his pocket to not have to worry about making that decision yet.

Abbott himself says it would have been unreasonable to have expected the latitude he was given when he first became LME ceo to continue under its new owner.

What next for Abbott?
With a background in metals trading, marketing, publishing – in fact as an editor of Metal Bulletin – and now running an exchange, who knows where Abbott will end up? He says he wants a role that allows him the flexibility to creatively grow a business, either one in its early stages or one that has lost its way.

History will arguably judge his highlight to have been the sale of the LME, a success story so far, although time will tell.

Many will probably identify the still-unfinished debate over warehousing as the low point of his tenure at the exchange.

Abbott himself says he is proud of various building blocks that grew the exchange and its volumes, from the launch of Select VI to SMART, SWORD and soon-to-be LME Clear; his lowest point was the death of the exchange’s head of technology Michael Warren, a key partner in that journey.

His successor will have big shoes to fill. Abbott’s charisma has made him a generally popular ceo and his broad-reaching career experience in many areas of the industry has given him deep insight for his decisions.

The new LME ceo will inherit a very different kind of exchange, at a time of immense regulatory change and added pressure on members.

Who will it be?
HKEx has always had a contingency plan for when Abbott left.

It already has a shortlist of candidates to replace him, and while it has not yet been actively speaking to them, it will start that process now.

Possibilities are both internal and external to the industry, as well as within HKEx. A couple of front runners have already emerged.

LME members will be hoping for someone that understands the business and represents their views on the board.

Let the horse trading begin.

Andrea Hotter 
Hotter on Metals
Twitter: @andreahotter