The Reuter Society
Tuesday 4 March 2014
David Ure, one of the "big beasts" of the Reuters corporate jungle, summed up his career with the company through a number of "butterfly wing flap" moments. Speaking to a crowded Reuter Society quarterly meeting, he took as his starting point the argument that a miniscule movement somewhere may have momentous consequences elsewhere (butterfly in Brazil; Tornado in Texas).
Ure gave several instances of the butterfly effect from his own experience in Reuters, among them:
- Lost spectacles: a meeting in Paris when chief executive Gerry Long refused to sign off on the Dealing project, presented by Ure, because he had mislaid his glasses. This was a critical turning point for the company. Delay would have meant disaster. Luckily Michael Nelson “induced the butterfly to flap its wings and the rest is history,” Ure said.
- Telephone call: David Ure to Michael Bloomberg, inviting him to connect to Reuters Triarch system, which allowed clients to view many data suppliers alongside Reuters. Bloomberg countered by asking for a Reuters news feed in return. “Not our policy,” said Ure. Bloomberg slammed the phone down, complaining later to Reuters chairman Sir Christopher Hogg that Ure was old-fashioned and inflexible. Result: Reuters built its success on combining news with data, “the cornerstone of our business”.
Summing up Reuters’ business achievement, Ure said the key had been the company’s ability to marry data with useful news, reliable dealing and analysis, all in high-speed digital form. The resulting transparency had created fairer markets and much greater liquidity. Coupled with the acquisitions of Instinet and Tibco, the result was a spectacular increase in shareholder value. “It was a magnificent business,” he said.
Despite that, Reuters lost out and was bought by Thomsons. Why? Ure gave three main reasons:
- Acquisitions: Instinet and Tibco never really “joined the family”. For reasons of business strategy and remuneration, they were always straining to get out.
- Technology: what had been a differentiating, creative force for Reuters became a disadvantage: “It got in the way in the Internet age.”
- Lack of diversification: “We did not develop a broad enough base to withstand the market shocks” of the late 2000s.
Finally, one bright note: “The Reuters news brand sails on.” ■