Kelly Loeffler | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
By Robert Green
For an executive at a company that can tell you the current value – or price – of almost anything in dynamic markets, Kelly Loeffler’s values have been remarkably stable since childhood. She is as appreciative today for her farm up-bringing as she is for all the success she has enjoyed in her career, at IntercontinentalExchange or as co-owner and co-chairman of the Atlanta Dream, the first women-owned professional sports team in Atlanta.
Kelly Loeffler was born in Bloomington, Illinois, and raised near a farming community of about 600 people. The family grew soybeans and corn and raised cattle. “I grew up working in the soybean fields, chopping out the weeds,” says Loeffler, whose parents gave her a time card to fill out. Based on time kept, she was then paid a farm wage. “I learned how hard it is to earn a dollar, but also how rewarding it is to do a job well,” she says.
In her early years, life revolved around the farm and farm activities. She was a member of the local 4-H Club and was later surprised that not many kids were members of 4-H. “My father was as much cowboy as farmer, and he taught me how to properly present cattle,” she says. “I won Showmanship at the County Fair one year, and my brother won best feeder steer overall.” Loeffler’s high school was at a central location – in the middle of a cornfield – between eight small farming communities. “It was a good foundation, based on hard work – I think it gave me a great start in life.”
Loeffler first ventured off the farm at 16 when she began waitressing in town and continued to do so all through high school and college. “I enjoyed it, but it was hard work, too,” says Loeffler, “but in contrast to the fields and working with cattle, there was air conditioning.” Despite farm chores and waitressing, Loeffler still managed to play three sports in high school – cross country, track and four years of basketball. The concept of “downtime” was not something with which she was familiar.
After high school, Loeffler went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The first thing she will tell you about her college experience is that she was fortunate to have it. “I was 17 years old and knew that I was lucky to get into a great school. The option wasn’t available to everyone with whom I grew up." Loeffler worked on a degree in Business Administration and says that one of her best undergraduate experiences was studying abroad. “I studied in both Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary,” she says, “it was so interesting to see different political and economic systems.” Were differences immediately apparent? “Cultural differences were apparent in both countries, of course, but you could really see the influence of decades of communism in Budapest. It wasn’t a happy place but the lecturers were still – amazingly – delivering the socialist viewpoint that had obviously failed. It gave me an even greater appreciation for what we have in America.”
Loeffler graduated from college in 1992 and decided that she wanted to work in the automotive industry. She had good interviews with GM and Ford, but it was Toyota that really captured her attention. The Japanese automaker had 23 management trainee positions to fill with over 2,000 applicants. Loeffler was one of the few selected and accepted a position in the Los Angeles office. “My starting salary was $28,500 per year. I moved to LA with a futon and a Camaro and shared an apartment with four other trainees,” she says. She became involved in leasing, which was new at the time, and supported dealer training on leasing. It was meeting with Toyota dealers that brought Loeffler to Atlanta for the first time. “I thought it was a lovely place,” she says, “but I had no idea I’d be living here one day.”
After the training program, Loeffler rotated to the field office in Kansas City where she worked in the allocation of vehicles to dealers, followed by a move to Chicago as a District Account Manager selling finance and insurance products to dealers.
Loeffler eventually left Toyota to join a friend who was starting a mortgage brokerage company in Chicago - “I wanted to be on the ground floor in something that utilized my financial skills,” and worked at it successfully for a year before deciding she desired an MBA. She entered the program at DePaul University in Chicago where she studied international finance and marketing. The program included an internship at an industrial company in Hamburg, Germany and a tour of Thailand during the “Asian Tiger” currency crisis in 1997. “It was edifying,” says Loeffler, “and revealing how connected the global economy had become and how quickly business cycles can change.”
After receiving her MBA, Loeffler went to work in the financial services sector, which she was determined to do. “I was initially rejected by Citi Global Asset Management while I was doing my internship in Germany. The rejection letter had been forwarded to me.” She did not accept the rejection lightly. She called Citi from Germany and convinced them to do a phone interview with her when she returned to the US in a few days. The interview went well, and she was hired. She moved to Stamford, Connecticut where she covered stocks in the global conglomerates sector, building financial earnings models and developing research for Citi's mutual fund portfolios Citi for a little over a year until a job offer came from William Blair, an investment management firm in Chicago. “The William Blair job was one I couldn't pass up,” says Loeffler, ”I worked on the sell side with Skip Helm covering the retail sector – he was one of the first analysts to ‘discover’ Home Depot stock. In fact, my second trip to Atlanta was to attend an analyst meeting at the company's headquarters.”
In 2002, Loeffler was contacted by the CFO of IntercontinentalExchange – or ICE as it is known – to interview to set up new Investor Relations and Public Relations departments because the company hoped that it would eventually be going public. Founded by Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Sprecher in 2000, the Atlanta-based company operated markets where natural gas and other energy commodities were traded electronically. “It was a risk moving to a start-up company,” says Loeffler. “Enron had just collapsed and the energy markets were reeling.” But Loeffler thought it was a positive bet that markets would operate transparently in the future. “We were actually making two bets,” says Loeffler, “one, that commodity trading would eventually go electronic and two, that the energy markets would recover and grow.”
ICE did go public in 2005. Loeffler worked on developing the offer document and the investor presentation that represented the company's growth story. She was a part of the IPO road show along with the CEO, COO and CFO, in which they had as many as nine investor meetings a day for 3 weeks across Europe and the US. The IPO was a great success – one of the largest initial public offerings by a company in the history of the state of Georgia. “We opened on the New York Stock Exchange at $26 and closed that day at $39. It was oversubscribed and we were looking at ourselves and asking ‘could we become a billion dollar company?’” When ICE completes the acquisition of NYSE Euronext later this year, the company will have an estimated value of $23 billion based on current share prices.
Getting there required a lot of work, including for Loeffler, who was tasked with helping to explain the company's business model and strategy to investors and the financial press as the head of investor and public relations. She also leads corporate marketing, which includes rebranding company acquisitions. For example, the New York Board of Trade – featured in the movie “Trading Places” with Eddie Murphy – was integrated into ICE and rebranded as ICE Futures US after the acquisition. The economic downturn had minimal impact on the company. “We were the only exchange to grow through the financial crisis,” says Loeffler, “largely because of our global commodity markets and the continuous need to hedge and manage price risk on those markets, particularly crude oil and natural gas.”
In the future, Loeffler believes it will be interesting to see if US natural gas can extend into international markets. “Commodities are very interesting,” says Loeffler, “because dollars flow to wherever prices are lowest. We’re seeing some of the benefits of low natural gas prices – with the possibility of a low cost energy driven manufacturing renaissance today if we take advantage of these resources.” Does she think this virtuous cycle will continue? “I think it can,” says Loeffler, “but there are always risks: burdensome or uncertain regulatory policy could hinder growth, but so could a lack of skilled labor or other structural issues.”
Loeffler has been mentioned by political insiders as a possible candidate for Georgia in the US Senate in 2014. Incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss announced his retirement earlier this year, creating a vacancy. Would she be interested in becoming more involved in public affairs? “I’m seriously looking at it,” says Loeffler, “giving it careful consideration. Frankly, I’m quite concerned that the average family or individual is being left behind and may not have the same opportunities that I had coming out of public schools just a couple of decades ago.” Asked if she would elaborate, Loeffler says “I’ll say this – when those that are struggling don't see a way forward and those that are successful are made to feel like they’ve done something wrong, our country's basis for economic freedom and opportunity for all our citizens is at risk."
In January 2011, Loeffler became co-owner and co-chairman of the WNBA Atlanta Dream with her business partner Mary Brock, a prominent community leader. It is the only women-owned professional sports team in Atlanta. “The team is for everyone,” says Loeffler, “we're Atlanta's team. While we have all the challenges of a small business, it makes me feel a part of the community. But most importantly, we hope it makes everyone feel like they are part of something special in Atlanta.” The team is not yet profitable, “but we are changing that and excited about what we're seeing here in Atlanta and across the league,” says Loeffler.
In addition to serving as the Vice President of Corporate Affairs at ICE and co-owner and co-chairman of the Atlanta Dream, Loeffler is a member of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Board of Trustees of the Georgia Research Alliance, the Boards of Central Atlanta Progress, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Skyland Trail and the Atlanta Sports Council. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Loeffler is grateful to provide leadership service to these distinguished organizations.
Loeffler has been married to husband Jeffrey Sprecher for nine years. The couple resides in Buckhead .
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