Profile: Emma Vigus, head of trading exchange, ShareMark

Most corporate chiefs wouldn’t relish the thought of driving to the outskirts
of London to bound through a field at the crack of a frosty dawn. But this is
effortless for ShareMark’s head Emma Vigus.

With her infectious smile and easy manner, she makes petting moody animals
and bearing the occasional waft of noxious manure somehow all part of the job of
promoting the newest upstart in British stock exchanges.

It helps that she’s a farmer’s daughter. ‘I love this – the fresh air. I
guess it’s very similar to what we’re about anyway, in terms of breaking the
mould,’ Vigus says.

She is referring to ShareMark, a stock market developed to buy and sell the
shares of small and medium-sized companies with accoutants as pivotal advisers
in the process.

ShareMark was launched in June 2000 to meet the needs of SMEs in need of a
trading platform for their shares. It was specifically designed to overcome some
of the weaknesses inherent in other markets, principally the wide offer spreads
caused by a lack of liquidity in companies’ shares.

Vigus began her career in ShareMark in the sales and marketing team in 2005.
Four months into the job, the head of the company left, leaving Vigus to take on
running the company.

‘I was literally thrown into the deep end. Fortunately for me, someone had
already done the complex algorithm work behind the operation. But we needed to
move on, and to do this we needed strong sales and marketing, led by someone
with a good understanding of the sector,’ she says.

Vigus is driven to get the name of the alternative trading market on as many
lips as possible. The challenge excites her and has kept her focused. ‘To be
honest, in the financial services world, managers are often not as good at sales
and marketing as they should be,’ she says.

Vigus had done a great amount of conceptual groundwork as a marketing
executive for Morgan Stanley Quilter, where for six years, she specialised in
the sales and marketing of small company stock markets.

Compared to her current post, her past role was one founded in a traditional
financial house. Although she has the utmost respect for the institution, she
longed to break out of the role, and follow a different calling in ShareMark. ‘I
am absolutely passionate about my product and firmly believe there is a real
need for something like ShareMark. I couldn’t market something I didn’t believe
in,’ Vigus insists.

ShareMark differs from markets such as the Alternative Investment Market or
PLUS Markets Group (previously known as Ofex) in that shares are bought and sold
at regular ‘auctions’ at a single price. There is also no market-maker involved,
so there is no bid/offer spread to contend with.

Share auctions

The auctions take place at a pace dictated by investors. By focusing on
investor demand through set auctions, companies avoid the costs of a continuous
market, and shares trade at a single price. Through its ShareStream service,
ShareMark also provides facilities for companies to raise equity funding from an
audience of private investors – while giving private investors the opportunity
to invest in a cost-effective way.

Currently 18 companies are listed with a total of 150,000 shareholders.
Companies trading on ShareMark have market capitalisations ranging between
£0.65m and £30m. They include: London Irish Holdings, owner of the London Irish
Rugby Club; Radio Taxis, one of the UK’s largest taxi operators and the first
carbon-neutral taxi firm; Countrywide, the farming and rural supplies business;
and Dairy Farmers of Britain; the UK’s largest farmer-owned co-operative.

‘We are the platform for smaller companies who were not yet ready to trade on
the open markets. There’s a tiny percentage of UK companies on the stock market
or on AIM, yet there is a huge number of companies with shareholders, who are
perhaps part of an employment share plan or have just been demutualised.

‘The trade markets that exist are not appropriate for them because they’re
too complicated – and that is the gap in which we want to operate,’ she says.

ShareMark also provides a platform on which an open ended investment company
or unit trust fund managers can administer their funds’ investments. OEIC shares
and unit trust units are traded on the basis of their ‘net asset value’ rather
than using the supply and demand model that applies to equities. Consequently,
the ShareMark price shown is an indicative valuation of shares/units in the
fund, based on the LSE’s ‘15 minute delayed’ prices.

Vigus’ proactive approach seems to be paying off. The number of companies
using ShareMark has increased by over 50% and dealing volumes have risen since
Vigus assumed control last year. By this time next year she hopes to grow
ShareMark by 75%.

‘I spend a lot of time talking with advisors because these firms, some of
whom come from the business services sector within auditing firms, are the
people our clients are using or should be using,’

ShareMark benefits from a clear-cut listing process – the rule book is six
pages long. But its regulation is as stringent as any market as it is overseen
by the Financial Services Authority.

It requires companies to submit annual audited reports and un-audited
interims and also has a model code on directors’ dealings. The flexibility also
allows directors to control who buys their shares. Vigus explains that ShareMark
is the solution to smaller companies vulnerable to aggressive take-overs.

A prime example of this is Radio Taxis, who demutualised three years ago and
needed to get a broad base of investors on board. Eventually they secured £11m
from the owner of a cab firm in the US. Existing shareholders, of which there
are around 2,000, comprising drivers and former employees, needed a market where
they could trade their shares, but they did not want a competitor, such as Com
Cab, to be able to buy any of their shares.

Vigus says ShareMark isn’t a platform for start-ups looking to raise capital
to grow, but rather for companies who wish to broaden their shareholder base,
and allow shareholders to realise share value.

ShareMark has evolved since its early days and learnt from mistakes. Vigus
now says there’s a much clearer strategy. ‘We just had to become more focused
and more client facing, which meant lots of relationship management. It is
something that makes us different. The most important thing is to maintain a
high level of contact as the business continues to grow.

‘We’re still at the foundation stage, but next year will be big,’ she says.

In between constantly engaging people, Vigus is conscious of the need to
analyse the numbers. ‘I get the impression from several accountants that there
are many companies

out there that choose bigger markets because of the reputation attached to
them, when they would be better off listing on ShareMark,’ she says,
acknowledging this as her biggest challenge .

Vigus clearly has great ambition. It’s what ShareMark needs right now.

Lowdown on Vigus

Work-life balance: ‘Mine is excellent. I start work between
7am and 8am, and finish between 4pm and 8pm. I don’t force myself to work if I
don’t feel like it.

‘I treat my team in the same way. Quality of life is very important, and
people are more productive if they have the opportunity to make the most of
their time away from work. I know my staff put in the hours so we’re very
flexible, without missing priorities.

‘We often spend time outside of office hours networking as well.’

Women as leaders: ‘I think a good leader is a good leader
no matter what sex they are. I think men and women bring different sets of
skills to the table. Good businesses should recognise that and bring these
together to make up a strong board. I have no views on quota.’

Interests: has a love for old treasures and wants to deal
in antiques; interior design; vintage clothes; shopping; photography.

Sport: she’s recently taken up the UK’s fastest growing
sport ­ the triathlon. She participated in her first one in August ­ and
completed it.

Relationships: ‘No family, yet. But I do have a boyfriend,
he’s in the army.

Sharemark ­ – the facts

  • Currently ShareMark is being used by 18 companies with a total of more than
    150,000 shareholders. This has grown from 11 companies in May 2005.
  • More than 2 million shares per annum are traded through ShareMark.
  • ShareMark trades both equity and loan stock.
  • The smallest ShareMark company is Luke Hughes, a bespoke furniture
    manufacturer with a market cap of £600,000 and approximately 200
    shareholders.The largest company is Share plc with a market cap of £30m and in
    excess of 80,000 shareholders.
  • Admission to ShareMark costs just £1,500 (excluding adviser fees) and may be
    as little as £12,000 including professional adviser fees, depending on the
    circumstances of the individual company. Ongoing fees are £1,650 per quarter.
  • The most recent company to join ShareMark, Countrywide Farmers, completed
    the admission process in one month.
  • ShareMark can operate closed markets, where share trading is restricted to a
    defined audience.
  • In 2004 ShareMark was appointed ‘Market Operator’ to the West Midlands
    Regional Stock Exchange, ‘InvestBX’ which is due to launch shortly.

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