ICE has Geared up to Take on Brazil

How Scott Hill’s unique financial leadership has primed the company to find success abroad

Scott Hill didn’t plan on a career in the financial industry, but his first career choice didn’t pan out. “Until I was 20 years old, I planned on playing baseball professionally,” he says. “However, as they said in Moneyball, it ends for everyone at some time, and the end for me was after one year of college and a summer of semipro.”

That may have been fortuitous. Today, Hill is the CFO of IntercontinentalExchange, Inc. (ICE), an Atlanta-based financial-markets operator whose futures exchanges offer markets in commodity contracts, as well as derivatives, to help companies manage risk in everything from crude oil and cotton to foreign-exchange markets. In addition to having global responsibility for almost everything related to the financial operations, Hill also manages the company’s global clearinghouse operation, which provides critical risk mitigation and collateral management services to the financial markets.

Getting to Know
Scott Hill

What’s your favorite part of the workday?
When our CEO walks into my office and says, “I’ve been thinking about the next challenge, and I want to talk about how we’re going to attack it.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My father once told me that there is no such thing as a great coach—only good coaches who can lead great players.

What motivates you most in life?
A desire to provide for my family and fully leverage the talents with which I’ve been blessed.

What three words define you?
Confident, willing, and faithful.

Which part of your job could you live without?
I would prefer having to do less travel due to the time it takes away from my family.

What’s your greatest passion outside the office?
My wife, my children, Texas Longhorns sports, and baseball.

How do you beat stress?
I run, bike, and lift weights. I’m hoping to be able to run a triathlon by next summer.

If you had to do something other than what you’re doing, what would it be?
Given that the baseball ship has sailed, I’d teach at either the high school or college level.

What is the one thing you would change about your industry?
I’d change the perception of our industry. Well-managed exchanges and clearinghouses have helped financial markets navigate the stormiest of seas for well over a century.

It’s a level of success few can achieve, but Hill says he didn’t necessarily start with a clear objective. After following his girlfriend (now his wife) to the University of Texas, he majored in business—not with the grand vision of becoming CFO of a Fortune 500 company, but with a willingness to say yes when given an opportunity to pursue the next tough challenge.

“That willingness to say yes gave me the chance to grow up in IBM’s fast-growing
services business in the mid and late 1990s, then expand my knowledge by moving to Europe to help restructure IBM’s European services business and to Japan to help
improve IBM’s Japanese operations,” says Hill, who also managed to pick up a master’s degree in business administration from New York University along the way, which is regularly ranked one of the top such programs in the country. “All of those experiences, and a solid dose of good luck, put me in a position to be recruited as ICE’s CFO in 2007.”

Hill’s current position is his greatest professional achievement. “I’m particularly proud of my contributions at ICE, which is an innovative company and provides crucial financial infrastructure and risk management tools to corporations around the world,” he says, explaining that much of the derivatives market reform specified in the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act—which brought the most significant changes to US financial regulations in the United States since the regulatory reform that followed the Great Depression—draws heavily from the
business model ICE has built over the past decade.

Today, Hill is relishing a new challenge: global expansion. In the past two years, ICE has made large investments in Brazil, with the intention of bringing the company’s proven market model and technology to the rapidly growing country. Brazil is rich in commodities with an emerging infrastructure, and Hill believes that presents “a big opportunity” for ICE, given its expertise running commodity exchanges.

Hill—who spends much of his time traveling abroad—is in a good position to influence this expansion. “It may sound simple, but the key to doing business abroad is
developing an in-depth understanding of the environment in which you will be working: the laws, the business practices, the culture, the language, the competitive environ-ment, and the people,” he says. “It’s critically important to define the goal you want to achieve or the problem you want to solve, but if you don’t understand the context in which you must work, you won’t be successful.”

This is tougher than it sounds. “Saying, ‘I’m from headquarters—or even worse, American headquarters—and I’ve been sent to fix your problem, and here’s how I’ve fixed this problem before,’ is doomed to fail,” Hill says. “You need to listen. What are the perspectives of those who have actually lived and worked in the local environment? How do they define the problem and opportunity? What have they seen work and not work? If you invest in listening, understanding, and learning, then apply your background and knowledge to the deep understanding of the foreign context you’ve gained, you’ll be successful.”

Hill says his unique perspective is the result of great professional mentors. Tim Shaughnessy, who guided Hill at IBM, encouraged him to never shy away from a challenge. “He also helped accelerate my career by acceding to my desire to be thrown into the deep end—to sink or swim despite the risk that my drowning might reflect poorly on him,” Hill says. “His confidence that I would not sink was great motivation.”

All of Hill’s inspiration, however, has not been professional. “My mother and father were high school teachers who taught me the value of hard work and honesty, and gave me the love and confidence that helped build my character,” he says. “But my wife is my greatest inspiration. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the career success I have without her unwavering support, including agreeing to move to Japan when she was eight months pregnant. And perhaps more importantly, I wouldn’t have such wonderful children and such a happy home without her taking on the highly underappreciated role of mother and homemaker.”