Don Cruickshank, the new chairman of the London Stock Exchange, said yesterday that he was "intrigued" when first approached about the job by headhunters in January.
Flabbergasted might be a better expression. Traditionally, the post has always been filled by one of the City's own, a member of the great and good drawn from within the Square Mile.
Yesterday, the LSE broke with that tradition, selecting a man who neither belongs to one of its 283 member firms, nor has a reputation for being the City's friend. Indeed, the approach to Mr Cruickshank came just as he was finalising his report into the banking industry - a damning document that took several LSE firms to task on many fronts.
Mr Cruickshank said his appointment had to be seen in the context of the changes taking place at the LSE as it demutualises and adjusts to life as a commercial organisation with shareholders and customers rather than members. "I guess the feeling was that an outsider could bring some helpful insights and would be able to see the woods for the trees," said Mr Cruickshank, whose varied career has included spells as head of the telecoms regulator, Oftel, chairman of the Government's millennium bug campaign, chief executive of the Scottish NHS and managing director of Virgin Group.
"The first thing I will be discussing in depth with our customers is what competitive pressures they face and how we can help them deliver. We are here as a commercial organisation to serve our customers' interests."
Uppermost on those customers minds, of course, is whether the LSE will merge with the Deutsche BÃ¶rse. Mr Cruickshank would be the obvious chairman of the merged exchange but he insists that the LSE has other options up its sleeve should the talks fail. "You never know until the ink is dry," he said. "I have seen too many bottles of champagne opened prematurely."
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