Being a successful entrepreneur requires a big vision and the sticking power to make it reality. Lance Uggla, who spun seemingly boring financial data into the gold mine now known as IHS Markit, has both in spades.
His decision this week to accept a $44bn takeover offer from US information giant S&P Global serves as “a capstone” on an all-consuming journey that began in an outbuilding in the garden of his St Albans home in 2002.
The deal will swell a fortune estimated at £650m earlier this year, but it will also put Mr Uggla out of a job. He will stay on as a special adviser for a year but will ultimately have to relinquish control of an information company that owns economic indicators and data relied on by everyone from bankers to defence departments. Some of the information sets go back hundreds of years.
As he tells it, his father, a former sawmill manager, is worried about what the deal will do to his highly driven son, asking whether it would be a “capstone or tombstone”?
But Mr Uggla, full of the restless enthusiasm and relentless self-belief that has propelled his success, has reassured his dad that he has plans aplenty. “Nobody has forced me. It’s just too exciting.”
Like so many successful Londoners, Mr Uggla, 58, is an immigrant. After a peripatetic childhood in western Canada, he earned a business degree from Simon Fraser University and moved to the UK in the mid-1980s to study accounting and finance at the London School of Economics.
His speech is often peppered with industry jargon and the occasional malapropism, and people who have worked with him say his energy is boundless — “he is the kind of guy who gave you jet lag” says a former colleague. But his open nature has won people over and friends say he remains loyal to those he trusts.
Michael Spencer, a longstanding friend and another successful entrepreneur, describes Mr Uggla as “a very naturally charming guy. He always was very ambitious and single-minded but has got plenty of charm.”
Never the wallflowers, the two men once appeared together with Bill Winters, chief executive of Standard Chartered, in a light-hearted fundraising video for London’s Young Vic theatre that saw them rip open their shirts and sing.
While working as a trader at TD Securities in the 1990s, Mr Uggla began building a database of prices for hard-to-value credit assets. The 2001 collapse of Enron, the energy trading group, made other banks realise they needed better pricing data too.
So he decided to found a company to provide it. When the company’s initial name, Markit.com, appeared to be putting off potential investors because the dotcom bubble was bursting, he renamed it Markit Partners.
But that market crash and the 2008 financial crisis each turned out to have hidden blessings as they prompted more demand from traders, and later regulators, for more data to provide them with a fuller picture of opaque markets. By 2012, he had made enough of a splash that he was crowned Ernst & Young’s UK Entrepreneur of the Year.
Markit’s success brought Mr Uggla into competition with Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters to provide financial markets data, even if he bristles with a direct comparison. They each serve as “a TV set”, he argues, while IHS Markit is a content provider.
A $13bn merger in 2016 with IHS gave Markit the scale and diversity Mr Uggla had long craved, bringing in industry-critical content such as Jane’s Defence Weekly, the bible for military and security intelligence.
The rise of artificial intelligence and advances in computing power have only increased demand for Markit’s proprietary data, as processes that once took hours are now completed in seconds. “It allows us to do hundreds of thousands of scenarios to find that needle in the haystack and create some competitive edge versus what we had before,” he explained in 2018.
The S&P deal will hand Mr Uggla $46m, according to a regulatory filing, on top of his 0.3 per cent stake in IHS Markit, now worth $120m. His wealth has allowed him to indulge some of his passions such as sailing and skiing. He owns properties in Verbier and by a lake in Canada.
Mr Uggla is divorced and has four children, one of whom, Riley, starred in UK reality TV show Made in Chelsea. In the past 18 months he has become a grandfather three times over. Before coronavirus hit, he regularly cycled through London’s clogged Oxford Street shopping area on his commute to Markit’s City headquarters.
Mr Uggla has no firm long-term plans but says he is interested in developing markets to support the fight against climate change, using better data to plot the transition to a net-zero-carbon world. “That’s really important to me. I want to be part of some of the think-tanks,” he says.
He will also continue his charitable work. In April, he used $24m in IHS Markit shares to start a foundation focused on education and access to the arts. He has helped with a school his former wife, Julie-Anne, built in Zambia and serves as a trustee and honorary member of the Tate art gallery foundation.
Fans expect a lot of a man who was among the first to recognise data’s financial potential. But Mr Uggla has made one public commitment. “I can tell you already, you won’t be finding me competing against something that I built.”