Bloomberg

ICE’s Jeffrey Sprecher Turns Billionaire on Eve of Wife’s Georgia Runoff

(Bloomberg) — For a guy who turned a few dollars into a company that oversees everything from the New York Stock Exchange to Libor, Jeffrey Sprecher was remarkably unknown outside of Wall Street.And it may have stayed that way except that his wife, Kelly Loeffler, was appointed to a U.S. Senate seat from Georgia to fill a vacancy late last year.Within months, the couple faced public scorn over a series of stock trades made before the coronavirus outbreak jolted global markets. Their wealth has now become a focal point in the Jan. 5 runoff election between Loeffler and Raphael Warnock, a Democrat — one of two Senate races that day that will determine control of the chamber.His company’s 22% rally this year has helped make Sprecher, 65, a billionaire, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and cemented Loeffler’s place as the wealthiest member of Congress.It’s another reminder of how Wall Street has done well during the pandemic while the broader economy struggles, and the latest twist to Sprecher’s improbable journey to the pinnacle of American finance. Intercontinental Exchange Inc., or ICE, as it’s called, is now a $63 billion behemoth that underpins much of the global financial system. It was built on Sprecher’s dealmaking, good timing and keen sense of where the world was headed.“I never would have thought ICE would own the NYSE, be a leading provider of fixed-income market data and seek to automate the mortgage process all at the same time,” said Rich Repetto, an analyst at Piper Sandler & Co. who has covered the company since its 2005 initial public offering.Sprecher, through an ICE representative, declined to be interviewed or comment on his net worth, which largely consists of his roughly 1% stake in the business. He hasn’t spoken publicly about his wife’s bid, but he’s donated to several Republican lawmakers and political action committees in recent years, including at least $5.5 million to a super PAC that supports her.Loeffler, 50, was an ICE executive for more than a decade and is now in a razor-thin race with Warnock amid record early turnout. Her campaign didn’t comment.Sprecher, who worked as a salesman out of college, got into the power industry in 1983. Looking for a way to hedge the price of fuels, he formed ICE in the 1990s by buying a failing Atlanta company, called Continental Power Exchange, that he modeled into an EBay for energy businesses looking to buy or sell surplus electricity. He paid $1 or $1,000 for the business — he said two years ago he can’t recall the precise sum — and kept it afloat with his savings.The timing was fortuitous. ICE launched shortly before its biggest rival, Enron Corp., went bust.Sprecher went on to make a dizzying number of deals. He bought rival exchanges and also expanded ICE into areas like commodity futures, fixed income and clearinghouses, which sit in the middle of each trade. The purchase of NYSE Euronext, which included the vaunted New York Stock Exchange, gave ICE control of London-based Liffe, which offered interest-rate derivatives trading.In 2014, ICE picked up responsibility for the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, which is embedded in an array of financial contracts, ranging from credit-card rates to pricing of derivatives. And this year it bought Ellie Mae Inc., which processes more than 40% of all new U.S. residential mortgages, a booming business now with borrowing costs at record lows.At the heart of the company is data, which it collects from clients, sorts and analyzes, and then sells back to those same clients. It underpins benchmark indexes for everything from crude oil derivatives to interest rates.“If I were starting this company today, I would probably call it the Intercontinental Massively Scalable Network and Database Company, because that’s what we are,” Sprecher said on a February call with analysts.Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with ICE in providing financial analytics, fixed-income data and information.Loeffler arrived at ICE in 2002 to lead investor relations, and later also took on communications and marketing — responsibilities usually split among three jobs. She and Sprecher married in 2004. They are self-proclaimed workaholics and have no children.Loeffler had been active in Republican circles for many years but never run for public office. But when Johnny Isakson, the state’s senior senator, stepped down in 2019 for health reasons, she sought and won the temporary appointment from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, her gender and financial well-being likely playing roles in his decision.The couple’s wealth, laid out in a 99-page financial disclosure form that lists everything from rental properties to a private plane, came under scrutiny after she disclosed a series of stock trades that began the day she and other senators got a classified briefing on the coronavirus outbreak.Loeffler has said the couple’s independent financial advisers made the trades without their knowledge, and that the investment portfolio will be liquidated. The Justice Department dropped a probe of transactions by her and some other lawmakers and the Senate’s own ethics panel cleared her of any wrongdoing.She sits on four Senate committees including the Agriculture Committee, which oversees the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The agency regulates the derivatives market, including many aspects of ICE’s growing business.Sprecher hasn’t given any inkling that he’s done building the company. In February, he gave up on an overture with EBay Inc., which had puzzled analysts. The acquisition of Ellie Mae was announced just six months later.“I really don’t know how to manage a company that isn’t growing,” he said on a podcast in May. “Part of managing a growing company is like the duck with your legs moving very quickly underneath. I wouldn’t really know how to float around.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.