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Nasdaq CEO quitting amid stalled projects

Hardwick Simmons, chairman and chief executive officer of the Nasdaq Stock Market, tried for more than two years to bring the company public and expand overseas. His successor will have to finish the job.

Officials at Nasdaq, the world's biggest electronic marketplace, met Monday to consider replacements for Simmons, 62, who is quitting before his contract expires in February. Simmons' term was marked by declining Nasdaq listings, a stalled initial public offering and a failed effort to start a marketplace in Japan.

Atop any new CEO's to-do list will be Nasdaq's attempt to register as a stock exchange, which would pave the way for an initial public offering and allow it to collect more fees for its data. Also on the agenda: luring more trades to the company's new $107-million quote-display and trading system, SuperMontage.

"If they get exchange status and a credible CEO, they would have a decent environment going forward," said Benn Steil, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and a consultant on market structure.

Simmons didn't return calls for comment. Nasdaq's current president, Richard Ketchum, has said he wants the job and is the only internal candidate. Executive recruiter Heidrick & Struggles Inc. is seeking other candidates, Nasdaq said. David Joys, the recruiter working on the assignment, didn't return calls for comment.

The company said net income for 2002 rose 6.4 percent to $43.1-million from $40.5-million in 2001. Its fourth-quarter 2002 income was $300,000, reversing a loss of $13.3-million in the quarter after the September 2001 terrorist attack.

To expand as a for-profit company and fund itself through an IPO, Nasdaq is trying to sever itself from the National Association of Securities Dealers, its former parent that still has voting control of the company. Investors won't buy into a company controlled by a regulator, Ketchum and many market analysts said.

There's one glitch to independence: the SEC requires the NASD to retain more than 50 percent of Nasdaq until it becomes an exchange, and it's been sitting on the exchange application since June 2001. SEC officials say that a decision on Nasdaq has become a priority.