Jeffrey Sprecher may scale back civic roles as Loeffler heads to SenateJeffrey Sprecher at the Atlanta Press Club in 2015 (Photo by John Glenn)
By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on December 13, 2019
Gov. Brian Kemp’s naming of Kelly Loeffler as Georgia’s next U.S. senator is making ripples for her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, CEO of the Fortune 500 company Intercontinental Exchange Inc., which owns the New York Stock Exchange.
Sprecher has informed the Atlanta Committee for Progress, an organization he has chaired in the past, that he is resigning from the board. It also is expected that Sprecher will scale back his other civic roles.
“It is simple math; 50 percent of that household is now giving 100 percent of her time to public service,” said Josh King, a spokesman for Atlanta-based ICE (NYSE: ICE). “Jeff, who has always served the community in many ways, is focused on running Intercontinental Exchange.”
Among the other civic roles Sprecher has had include serving as past chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. He continues to serve on its executive governing committee.
Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said he has not yet told her he will be stepping down. But she added, “I’m assuming that both he and she are following the rules.”
Sprecher also is a past chair of the Buckhead Coalition, and he continues to be one of its 100 members.
“If Jeff is more comfortable going off the board, of course we will respect his decision,” said Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition. “We would love for him to stay. He is so valuable to any organization.”
King would not elaborate on specifics about Sprecher stepping back from his community roles, but he said will be focusing his energies on ICE and NYSE.
The civic roles are just one dimension of the changes underway with Loeffler, Sprecher and their respective political, business and civic roles.
On Dec. 4, the day Kemp announced Loeffler as his pick, ICE issued a congratulatory release and quickly added that Loeffler would be stepping down from all her roles with the company, where she has been since 2002, before taking office in January.
Loeffler had been a member of the ICE’s executive management committee, overseeing all aspects of the company’s investor relations, marketing and communications functions until 2018. She then became CEO of Bakkt, a startup company that is majority-owned by ICE and focused on trading, storage and application of digital currencies in payments platforms.
Sprecher and Loeffler got married in 2004, and they continued to work closely together at the company.
Joel Koblentz, a founder of the Koblentz Group, which advises corporate boards and executives on issues of succession and recruitment and strategy, said her appointment to the U.S. Senate will impact the business side of their relationship.
“The truth of the matter is that Jeff Sprecher is a CEO and is responsible to a board of directors and various company stakeholders,” Koblentz said. “It’s no longer just the shareholders. It’s the wider community of customers, employees and suppliers. He can’t be burdened with the political fallout of having his wife connected to the business.”
Koblentz, who was the past chair of the advisory board of Emory University’s Center for Ethics, said they have to be proactive in avoiding any perceived or real conflicts of interest.
“We are in a world where perception is reality,” Koblentz said. “There has to be a Chinese wall between ICE/NYSE and Kelly Loeffler in Washington. If she has shares in ICE, she should consider putting them in a blind trust. It all has to be thought through. They need to look at every area where conflicts could exist.”
Koblentz said the company’s immediate announcement that Loeffler would be stepping down from her business roles was the correct move.
“What she’s doing is absolutely appropriate and right, and her husband took it under consideration,” Koblentz said.
“Jeff and the board’s executive committee have to make sure the rules are clear about the professional relationship between Jeff Sprecher and Kelly Loeffler,” Koblentz continued. “They have to be sure there are not perceived or real conflicts of interest. They have to be extremely proactive to make sure the parties are separate, and the decisions are separate – that she’s not in a position to influence the strategic success of the business in any way.”
When asked if the company had experts vetting potential conflicts of interest, ICE’s King simply answered, “We are being well advised.”
Also, Ryan Mahoney, who is advising the Loeffler campaign and served on Kemp’s gubernatorial campaign, provided a statement regarding potential conflicts of interest.
“Senate Designate Kelly Loeffler is a woman of character who will act with the highest degree of integrity in the United States Senate,” Mahoney wrote in a text. “Kelly will work closely with the Senate Ethics Office to ensure everything she does is in accordance with both the letter, and the spirit, of the law.”
Koblentz also said he was “highly confident” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “will not put her on any financial industry committees.”
Among potential areas of conflict would be reauthorizing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission or voting on a new commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Both of those decisions could have a direct impact on the business of ICE and the NYSE.
“The next 11 months will be a test for her and for him as these conflicts come up,” Koblentz said. “They will have to have a Chinese Wall, and that wall will have to be thick.”