Entrepreneurship in reverse – Hidden Unicorns

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Entrepreneurship in reverse – Hidden Unicorns

Entrepreneurship in reverse – Hidden Unicorns

I often wonder how I became the CEO of my own company. I always had a desire to run my own business but somehow never got to doing it until recently. So how did I shape myself into doing so? What was the catalyst for getting me to leave the safety of the guaranteed salary and all things that come with being in large businesses and to start my own thing?  How much influence did the companies I worked for have on me becoming an entrepreneur?

As a business owner working in the digital space, what I have seen is the rise of the Unicorn. Everyone wants to be part of one and the most highly recognised ones come from having a major digital presence.

But one that I hold close that isn’t even recognised by most people is Markit. Markit was a UK-based start-up, formed in 2003, IPOd in 2014 at $1.4B (officially making it a Unicorn), then merged with IHS in 2016 to become IHS Markit.  I spent 9 years through this hyper growth leading digital marketing efforts.

Last year, S&P Global bought IHS Markit for a whopping $44 Billion, making it the largest deal worldwide in 2021. In 2021 IHS Markit had $4.6B revenue.

On the list of best Unicorns globally, it should come in fifth place just behind ByteDance ($400b), SpaceX ($100b), Stripe ($95b) and Klarna ($45.6b), according to recent valuations. This would make it ahead of companies like Epic Games, Canva and Revolut. Source: Wikipedia

This leads me back to the story I think is important, and that’s the story of the environment created at IHS Markit, and how it inspired an entirely new generation of entrepreneurs, businesses, and CEOs.

In the business world, there is always an example of how one person can inspire a whole generation, and to be honest, while my nine years at IHS Markit were truly inspirational and career defining, I did not know that I would be one of the 300+ people inspired by the same single person, Lance Uggla, to create their own vision and realise it.

Let’s put this into perspective, based on the total number of employees at IHS Markit, 300+ is equivalent to 3% of employees going on to become CEOs. Or, even more impressively, looking just at the Markit part of the business, this number grows to over 5%.

So, I wonder, how much credit should IHS Markit and the leadership team behind it get for this sort of contribution, to its employees, society and the economy? A lot I would argue.

An entrepreneur is someone who “sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Yes, all entrepreneurs are business people who hope to turn over a few dollars. But what does it take to develop a successful entrepreneurial mindset?

Clearly, Lance Uggla, CEO of IHS Markit, has whatever ‘it’ is, to become a successful entrepreneur.

He left a very successful career in the financial services as Vice Chair at TD Securities in 2003 to form Markit which he grew to IPO on Nasdaq in 2016.

The company then merged with IHS to form IHS Markit (an information services company, providing research, analytics, and technology to customers in major industries, financial markets, and governments) and became one the largest B2B data companies in the world. It has in the last few weeks merged with S&P Global (which provides essential intelligence, providing governments, businesses and individuals with the right data, expertise, and connected technology so that they can make decisions with conviction).

Clearly, Lance has the right qualities to steer a start-up, starting with a fledgling idea that he grew into a global firm worth billions. He is often described as being able to “spin data into gold,” and has won Entrepreneur CEO of the Year in the UK several times to reaffirm this.

It takes a certain type of person to be able to head up a company and bring it to centre stage in all its greatness. Perhaps it’s not possible for everyone, and it certainly requires a certain level of grit, determination and a great deal of hard work.

I saw this type of work and determination first hand when I was employed by Markit in 2008 when it was still a start-up.

My very first interview at Markit was set for 7.30am which seemed a little early, but I went with it. The offices back then were near London Bridge and not to be late I turned up at 7am. As I sat there wondering if I had misunderstood the hiring agent, Lance himself was first in the office, asked me who I was there to meet and, well as they say, the rest is history.

Markit has always been considered a very entrepreneurial company. Among the factors that make it so are its fast-moving pace and its ability to make timely and shrewd decisions which encouraged forward-thinking actions, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

My current company, SmallGiants, provides digital and marketing services for early-stage companies and large enterprises that are looking to run their growth strategies in agile, data/science backed ways.

We work with many ex-IHS Markit-formed companies. And among our own senior team are a number of people who all started life at IHS Markit.

This, I think, is pretty interesting. It’s not only me as CEO who benefited from a career at IHS Markit, but also several of our senior team too. We have more in common than our work ethic, ideas, and tenacity; we have a shared business background.

On the back of this, the team undertook some top-level research, to look into how many companies came to be from Markit origins.  

We found over 300 CEOs, including 200 who are leading either their own start-ups or have been appointed as CEOs in existing hyper growth businesses.

There are another estimated 100 CEOs in stealth or who had either exited or left CEO positions as the companies they led met their business goals.

Breaking this down further, we found there are approximately 80-100 CEOs that were appointed after working for IHS Markit and just over 200 CEOs that became founders of new start-ups.

Impressively, the new IHS Markit-inspired CEOs went on to lead successful businesses across many sectors, not unexpectedly the largest being financial services but there are also many in technology, education, energy, marketing, real estate, hospitality and soon.

A few example start-up success stories of current CEOs that at some point in time I was seating no more than 20 feet while working at Markit:

Neil Walker

A former non-exec Board member at Markit. Markit supported his start-up TradingHub, which has now become one of the leading market abuse surveillance software companies in the industry.

Tobias Sproehnle

A former director at Markit on the Index business. After leaving Markit he set up Moorgate Benchmarks as a provider of bespoke Indexes. He sold the company to Morningstar in a successful exit.

Nick Fusco

Nick joined Markit in 2006 within the structured products team, and built out several index and pricing products for the company in New York and London . He has now set up ApeVue with other colleagues from Markit, a platform providing independent pricing of pre-IPO companies.

Sylvia Kwok

A marketing director at Markit who went on to hold several CMO positions and has now set up SilverBear Consultancy. Sylvia is a close partner of SmallGiants, and we have delivered multiple brand transformation projects together, including recently for Wilshire.com, Macrobond.com and Rimes.com

Here are the rest of the findings: 

Largest start-ups with IHS Markit background

So here are our top 10 former Markit employees who have taken the entrepreneurial baton and run with it, based on company size. They are all either CEOs, founders, or co-founders of their own successful start-ups in a range of industries.

10 CEOs who have been held positions at IHS Markit: 

And here are our top 10 CEOs who are now at the helm of successful companies. Interestingly, largely in the spheres of software or business intelligence.


To request the full list of some of the trailblazing CEOs who have come from a background at IHS Markit, just fill out our form.

Al Ramich
CEO at SmallGiants.Agency and Loomi.AI