Deirdre Somers, CEO remembers former ISE CEO, Tom Healy (1950-2017)
I worked with Tom Healy for 12 years before succeeding him as Chief Executive of the Irish Stock Exchange in 2007. The huge sadness that I and many others felt at his funeral last week is matched by the admiration I have for the work that he did – and the way that he did it.
In my position, I am lucky to be reminded every day of Tom’s business achievements. I see them all around the Exchange in the successful, agile business he created, built on a highly skilled team and a strong culture of using our collective skills in the best way possible. When he retired, Tom handed over a business that had been radically transformed for the better and one that was primed and ready for an exciting new phase of building on his many successes.
Chief Executives always run the risk of being effective without being enjoyable company. Tom was both. I have been struck over the past week at how people are remembering Tom with great respect for his business achievements as well as great fondness for the warm, personable, and charismatic way in which he made them happen. While he was best known as the popular public face of the ISE for the 20 years he was Chief Executive, behind the scenes he was much more than that.
He was a great strategic thinker; an impressive entrepreneur who spotted business opportunities and talent and made the most of them; and an upbeat, magnetic leader with great charisma, intelligence and, above all, flair. He joined the ISE in February 1987 – four months after the famous Big Bang in the UK, which revolutionised the business of share trading forever, and eight months before the even more famous Black Monday, the biggest stock exchange crash in history.
At the time, many commentators were expressing concern about the future of the Exchange, in light of the immense challenges posed by growing internationalisation of securities markets, rapid advances in trading platforms and a perceived reluctance among smaller companies to come to the market. Such enormous challenges would have put off a lot of people. Tom thrived on them. He took them in his stride and went on to steer the Exchange through the greatest growth phase of its entire 200-year history.
In 1987, the ISE faced an uncertain future as it relied almost exclusively on income from trading in equities and government bonds. Tom identified the need to diversify, to find new ways to make money and to build on the ISE’s core strengths.He did it better than anyone else could. He saw opportunities that others could not. And he encouraged others to bring new ideas to him, embracing these ideas with his trademark vigour, positive attitude and support.
The end result is that the Exchange today is unrecognisable from the one he inherited in 1987. Who would have thought, back then, that the world’s number one centre for fund listings would be the Irish Stock Exchange? Who would have thought that our headquarters on Anglesea Street would be the number two location in the world for listing debt securities? And who would have thought that we would continue to have a vibrant pipeline of ambitious Irish companies seeking to raise capital from the public markets? The ISE became a true international business on Tom’s watch, to the point where we now have customers in more than 85 countries, with over 35,000 securities listed by over 4,000 different issuers. It simply would not have happened without him.
But I would be wrong to dwell too much on Tom’s public record as a businessman without recalling what he was like in private. We had the pleasure of seeing the best of him outside the public eye. He made things look easy – but his ability to do things in style never came at the expense of doing them thoroughly, diligently and effectively. He was always approachable, supportive, sensitive and understanding. He had an uncanny ability to make people feel at ease, to make them feel heard and to make them want to perform at their best. We rarely found ourselves in fundamental disagreement but even when we did, he made it a positive and a constructive experience.
It came as no surprise to me that he continued to thrive after retiring from the Exchange and that he went on to have a successful spell in charge of the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange. Had his health not intervened, he would surely have continued to be a fine example to us all by enjoying his retirement with panache, energy and good humour. Much as we in the ISE mourn the loss of a wonderful former colleague and a true friend, we recognise the far bigger loss to Tom’s family of a husband, father and grandfather. To his wife Marie, his children Aoife, Aisling, Fiona and Seán, and his wider family, we offer our sympathy. We won’t forget him.
By Deirdre Somers, Chief Executive of the Irish Stock Exchange, as published in The Business Post on Sunday 23 April 2017