After announcing his purchase of the New York Stock Exchange in December 2012, Wisconsin alumnus Jeffrey Sprecher came to the University of Wisconsin Friday to share his experiences in building a global company with students.
Sprecher bought the Continental Power Exchange in Atlanta in the 1990s and by 2000 he had started his company, Intercontinental Exchange, an online marketplace for energy trading. When their main trade competitor, Enron, collapsed in 2001, ICE’s business erupted, he said.
Since that time, Sprecher said he has expanded his business and acquired the International Petroleum Exchange, New York Board of Trade and most recently, the New York Stock Exchange.
Early in his career, Sprecher said he kick-started an exchange to buy and sell electrical power, not knowing anything about trade. He said everything he experienced through his entrepreneurial pursuit dated back to his engineering education and Newton’s first law.
He said his company has been on such a successful trajectory that he has often spent much time figuring out how to avoid the “rocks” force, which he thinks will stop his momentum.
“If you want to start a company, the market will tell you what to do,” Sprecher said.
Many people are driven by what they are interested in and have a passion for, but a demand does not exist for what they are hoping to accomplish, Sprecher said. Sprecher said he found a lot of people telling him what they needed and what to do, so that was what he did.
The consumers tell people what business they should be in. If someone can tie his or her passion in with this demand, then he or she are golden,” Sprecher said.
Sprecher said many entrepreneurs are unsuccessful because they are too focused and structured on where the “stream” will take them, when instead they should jump in, ride the stream and see where it takes them. Sprecher said he became involved in two things he was not at all interested in but took the opportunity by living in Atlanta and working with the Internet.
Sprecher said the first lesson he learned was that it is much easier to build a company that is following a trend instead of going against the status quo. Sprecher displayed his desire to be a follower and said he would rather be a small fish in a big pond than a big fish.
Sprecher’s entrepreneurial journey has sparked interest and inspiration in graduate student, Fei Ma, who is starting her own ride share company, Madison Ride Share. Ma said she attended Sprecher’s lecture because she thought it would be helpful to hear the perspective of an establish entrepreneur.
“It was interesting to see how flexible [Sprecher] was to what the times called for,” Ma said.
Sprecher’s fraternity brother and Wisconsin ’79 alumnus, John Philosophos said it was enjoyable to see Sprecher’s journey. Most business leaders distill very complex problems and identify small issues one at a time, he said.
“It was great to see how much Sprecher has transformed over time and how he is able to see the trends the market is making from a distance,” Philosophos said.
Correction: The original version of this story stated Sprecher has already purchased the New York Stock Exchange and its parent company. The acquisition process is still currently in progress, and the online edition has been updated to reflect this change.