Monday, August 26, 2013

Those Who Live In Glass Houses

How often in the past 5 years have you tried to log on to Twitter and all you've gotten is a little blue whale logo on the screen representing a technical difficulty now known as the 'fail whale'? Often enough that you and everyone else who uses technology understands that these things ... happen.
However, shortly after 12:15 p.m. Eastern Thursday, there was no cheeky logo popping up on investors' trading screens to indicate that a massive glitch would prevent them from buying or selling all NASDAQ stocks. The outage would end up lasting three hours but the blowback still continues this weekend. The New York Post headline called NASDAQ CEO Bob Greifeld "BS Bob." The New York Times sniffed that the Nasdaq looks like an "also ran" in part due to the technical vulnerabilities it showed during the outage. Never mind that the Times itself was hacked recently.

Look. Of course the tough questions had to be asked and the criticisms might be warranted especially when it came to how Nasdaq communicated the problem to the public but the damage seemed to me to be more reputational than structural. So when I landed an interview with Greifeld "the morning after" and rushed down to the Nasdaq with my crew, the question I most wanted answered was, "Will this hurt you?" Will this poison the fertility of the hallowed Nasdaq ground that has been the place for super-hot tech IPOs to take root and grow? The best and the brightest: Intel, Apple, Google, Microsoft -- they'd all picked Nasdaq as their home, giving it the "cool" factor which has lasted until ... now. The popular kids in the cafeteria at "Tech High" always chose "the Naz," NOT the august and famed but grey-around-the temples New York Stock Exchange.

This struck me and my "Countdown to the Closing Bell" show team as the core issue. Arguably the most important tech IPO on the horizon is Twitter. When Twitter makes its decision, it will either be celebratory fireworks or a nail in the coffin for Nasdaq.

So as the 8 a.m. Eastern hour approached Friday morning, the Fox Business team along with "Imus in the Morning" were all standing by to watch the live feed. Imus would be taking it live in both his FBN telecast and his syndicated radio program. My executive producer, Mark White, suggested I ask Greifeld to give the "30-second pitch" live on our air to Twitter as it ponders where it'll list when it eventually decides to go public.

The interview: NASDAQ OMX CEO Robert Greifeld tells FBN’s Liz Claman what went on behind the scenes during the 3-hour outage that’s been labeled the "flash freeze."
After about whether the glitch was caused by hacking ("it absolutely wasn't"), whether he'll consider teaming with a rival exchange the next time this happens so as to enable trading to continue ("It's a good idea") or whether former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt was right to lob a verbal grenade at the Nasdaq's "terrible" handling of the crisis ("It's hard for people on the outside to comment intelligently about it"), I went for the Twitter pitch question.

"We aspire toward perfection. technology companies like Twitter recognize this ... so, we would say to any tech company, 'We're not perfect, we're 99.999% perfect and no matter what, we'll always ensure a fair and orderly market," said Greifeld.

Just two hours later, Fox Business' senior correspondent Charlie Gasparino confirmed through sources that Nasdaq *and* the NYSE are both aggressively pitching Twitter for its IPO business and that the offering will likely hit in 2014. Twitter, no doubt, will do extensive due diligence before it makes its decision. It'll take note that Nasdaq recently lost a big fish: software giant Oracle, a longtime Nasdaq stock, recently turned tail and jumped to the NYSE. Twitter will most likely take into account that the listing road allows traffic in both directions: after being cozily ensconced for decades at the NYSE, Texas Instruments pulled up its stakes in December of 2011 and moved to the Nasdaq. It was the biggest fast switch news since the Cleveland Browns dumped the loyal hometown and headed to Baltimore to become the Ravens. "It's a natural fit," said TXI's investor relations chief.

Which brings me full circle to what technology companies might do well to understand. The Nasdaq's trading system has effectuated billions of trades on a daily basis for more than 20 years, all without a hitch. Hidden in the dark canyons of the miles of fiber lines, millions of algorithms, and trillions of trades lies a highly successful system that would impress even the engineers and code-writers of companies like Twitter.

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