Ros Wilton: 'My City career began when I was six and met Dad's bank manager'

A day in the life of the chief executive of Hemscott
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The Independent Online

Ros Wilton, the former Reuters senior executive who now heads Hemscott, says she feels like she has been "in a boxing fight" after pulling off a transformational deal for the online financial information firm this week.

It comes after years of working in the City in money and futures broking, as well as for Reuters. Ms Wilton says her City career started at the age of six when she asked her Dad if she could go to a meeting with his bank manager, wearing her "best going-out outfit" - a pink frock with a Peter Pan collar and little black patent shoes.

"I was completely fascinated - I wasn't interested in fairy stories. I thought to myself: That's what I want to do - I want to work in the City and take people out for lunch," she reminisces, now 54, while sitting in her office in Finsbury Tower in the heart of the City.

This week, alongside Hemscott's chairman Michael Grade, who also chairs the BBC, she negotiated a £52.9m deal for the company to be taken private by its majority shareholder, Veronis Suhler. It will then be merged with i-Deal, a private US company that provides financial software for stock market flotations, and Ms Wilton is to become chairman of the new holding company, HID. The deal, at 53p a share, spells a partial victory for minority shareholders who in January attacked a proposed tender offer at 40p a share as a rip-off.

Tuesday 6am

Ms Wilton gets up at her Oxford home, gets on the train to London, and enjoys her usual toast and smoothie while wading through the transaction papers and is in the office by 8am. She has already spent the bank holiday weekend in frantic discussions as Wednesday has been set as the deadline for the announcement of the deal.

Dressed in a sharply cut black business suit, she has come a long way from that first "business lunch" of fish fingers and Ribena with her father. After finishing her mathematics degree at university in London ("I absolutely loved maths, very analytical"), she went hunting for a position in the City in 1973.

"I didn't realise that no women worked in the City - it hadn't even occurred to me. But I thought I can do the same as everyone else." She always knew what she wanted - to talk to customers, preferably over lunch. Turning down several back-office jobs, she became a money broker at a business that is now part of Icap. There she met her husband, got married and took two and a half years out to have her two daughters. "I thought I was retiring then but that was very shortlived," she laughs.

She then helped set up the futures broker GNI, now part of Man Group, before rising to UK head of futures, options and fixed income at Drexel Burnham Lambert. When Michael Jenkins, then the chief executive of the London derivatives exchange Liffe, asked her to stand as a non-executive director in 1985, she said: "Don't be ridiculous. No women go on the board of any exchanges in the City. No one would vote for me." Weeks later, she became the first woman to get on the board of any major exchange in the UK. She was also the first woman to join the board of Scottish Widows, and the first female member of the Reuters executive committee.

Ms Wilton loved working at Drexel and told them they would have to carry her out - in the end she had to close down the London arm when the firm was sunk by Michael Milken's infamous junk bond operations in the US. She then moved to Reuters where she ran the electronic trading operations as well as the risk management division for eight and a half years years, before joining Hemscott in 1999.

9am

Mr Grade arrives at the Hemscott offices and both are locked for hours in discussions with their lawyers and brokers. He gets plenty of credit from Ms Wilton for driving the negotiations with Veronis Suhler. "He has been a fantastic chairman. We met through a headhunter and got on extremely well." She persuaded him to join the business in 2000.

At that time it was just a database, spun off from a book publishing business. It had zero revenues and lacked a product - but Ms Wilton decided to take it on because she saw it had great intellectual property and a good brand. The firm has certainly kept her busy, leaving little time to work out with her trainer, though keeping fit is very important to Ms Wilton, who cuts a slender figure.

After shelving plans for a stock market flotation in the spring of 2000 because of the downturn, she got the company listed on AIM by reversing into a shell company. The firm ended up being controlled by the specialist US media merchant bank Veronis Suhler and another investor, Finmedia. It snapped up three other businesses, and revenues have swelled to £12m.

Ms Wilton believes the quality of the data and excellent customer service differentiate Hemscott, which handles investor relations and provides online research to more than 35 per cent of the FTSE 100. As she puts it: "Making sure we give customers exactly what they want and not giving them what you want."

12pm

Numerous calls and e-mails fly back and forth throughout the day. Ms Wilton munches a sandwich quickly at her desk, and later has hot chocolate to keep up her energy levels.

She still seems surprised that the transaction came off. "It's quite extraordinary that we got this deal done on the day. On Tuesday it seemed completely impossible that we were going to meet the deadline with so many open issues - we had issues with the Takeover Panel and issues on various negotiations and documentation."

5pm

The transaction almost falls apart as the UK Takeover Panel raises new objections to the structure - "an issue where we did not know whether we could get it resolved," Ms Wilton says. She launches an emergency conference call with the advisers and the board to discuss the latest stumbling block. It's a late evening in the office with her finance director and the in-house lawyer.

8.30pm

Ms Wilton leaves the office, jumps on a train and is home by 9.15pm, but there is no time for dinner as the phone rings. "Another board call to see whether this was going to be a go or no-go situation." She e-mails the management team to say that it is still not clear whether the deal will go through by the following day.

Wednesday 1am

She gets on to the lawyers again and manages to iron out some of the issues. In bed at 1.30am she still does not know whether the deal can go ahead.

4.30am

Ms Wilton Wakes up to see her Blackberry flashing: "Agreement going to go ahead." Jubilant, she jumps out of her bed, sends an e-mail to the rest of the management team and gets the 6.03 train to London. While travelling into the capital, she gets on a board call to sign off on the deal. "Fortunately there was no-one else in the compartment at that point. I went through the announcement and wanted a few words changed, but in the midst of dictating we went through a tunnel and got cut off and then had to go back. "

7am

The deal is announced to the stock market. Ms Wilton takes telephone calls from journalists from 7.30am and tours the office to tell everyone the good news and declares a "cake day". All big changes are celebrated at the company with a good dose of sugary cake. Her older daughter, who works at Fortis Investments in Paris, sees the press release and e-mails her "Very good supermummy."

Ms Wilton is now looking forward to assuming a more strategic role as chairman of the transatlantic HID business where she will oversee its roll-out in Europe. "I'm not a sit-back person. I love new challenges."

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