How NYSE's Top Salesman Fought for IPOs in 2020

 How NYSE's Top Salesman Fought for IPOs in 2020

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During a record year for initial public offerings,

John Tuttle
spent five months urging companies to list on the New York Stock Exchange from his lakeside vacation house in Michigan where he took refuge during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Tuttle, the NYSE’s vice chairman and chief commercial officer, is the top salesman for the 228-year-old exchange. A former State Department official under the George W. Bush administration, his mission is to ensure that companies going public choose the NYSE over its crosstown rival,
Nasdaq Inc.

During normal years, he is often seen on the bell podium above the trading floor, applauding as chief executives celebrate their companies’ IPOs. This, however, wasn’t a normal year.

“While I had always dreamed of the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in northern Michigan, I didn’t imagine that it would involve about 15 hours a day of videoconferences,” Mr. Tuttle said in an interview.

When the worsening pandemic triggered a historic stock-market plunge in February and March, IPOs slowed and many investors saw little chance of a revival.

The NYSE, which is owned by Intercontinental Exchange Inc., also faced a unique challenge because its famed trading floor was closed for two months during the pandemic.

In a throwback to the era before electronic trading, floor traders had long run IPOs of companies that list on the NYSE. The exchange changed its procedures in March so they could be handled remotely. Closing the floor also meant the NYSE couldn’t host bell-ringings for companies going public.

Mr. Tuttle spent much of his time telling prospective issuers that the NYSE was more than just its building on 11 Wall Street. In the end, the floor closure had less impact on the exchange’s IPO business than some observers initially feared, he said.

As the S&P 500 roared back this spring and summer, IPOs picked up. Firms like Quicken Loans parent
Rocket
Cos. and data-warehousing company
Snowflake Inc.
chose the NYSE for their multibillion-dollar debuts.

But Nasdaq won perhaps the year’s most anticipated debut,
Airbnb Inc.
One sweetener that Nasdaq used to secure the IPO, a person familiar with the situation said, was an agreement to let some lucky Airbnb customers spend New Year’s Eve in a geodesic dome on Nasdaq’s 10th-floor terrace overlooking Times Square. Airbnb revealed the promotion earlier this month.

A banner highlights the Sept. 16 IPO on the NYSE of data-warehousing company Snowflake Inc.

A banner highlights the Sept. 16 IPO on the NYSE of data-warehousing company Snowflake Inc.

Photo: brendan mcdermid/Reuters

Nasdaq is on track to beat the NYSE in IPOs for the second year in a row, after the Big Board led for most of the past decade, according to Dealogic. Companies raised $86.4 billion in IPOs at Nasdaq in 2020, compared with $80.2 billion at the NYSE, based on data through Monday.

The NYSE is ahead of Nasdaq if the tally includes new listings of closed-end funds, which is the NYSE’s preferred approach to tracking IPOs.

All together, 2020’s record IPO haul of $167 billion smashes the previous high of $108 billion from 1999, Dealogic data show.

Even during the market’s lows this spring, the NYSE attracted many special-purpose acquisition companies, which are vehicles that go public to raise cash for deals. A record number of new SPACs went public this year, and the NYSE won an outsize share of the biggest ones, including hedge-fund manager William Ackman’s
Pershing Square Tontine Holdings Ltd.
, which raised $4 billion in July in the year’s biggest IPO.

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Nasdaq was the dominant exchange for SPACs until 2017 when the NYSE eased its rules for such listings. NYSE veterans say Mr. Tuttle played a key role in making the Big Board more SPAC-friendly, as well as in developing direct listings, an alternative way for companies to go public that doesn’t involve underwriters. Data-mining giant
Palantir Technologies Inc.
used a direct listing to debut on the NYSE in September.

To win IPOs, Mr. Tuttle builds relationships with companies well before they go public.

Kevin Kawasaki,
global head of business development at Palantir, recalled first meeting Mr. Tuttle in 2017 after the NYSE executive sought an introduction through one of Palantir’s investors. In April, when Palantir began planning its direct listing, Mr. Tuttle reached out again.

John Tuttle worked for the State Department before joining the NYSE.

John Tuttle worked for the State Department before joining the NYSE.

Photo: Emily Assiran for The Wall Street Journal

“He was calling at a time when it didn’t seem super-obvious for any company to be going public,” Mr. Kawasaki said.

Raised in the suburbs of Detroit, Mr. Tuttle started his professional career as a White House intern in 2002. Several years later, he took a job in the State Department where he helped organize visits by foreign leaders ranging from Tony Blair to the Dalai Lama.

He also flew to overseas hot spots, such as Juba, the now-independent capital of South Sudan, where he participated in a U.S. delegation to the funeral of a former rebel leader, and at times wore a bulletproof vest due to security concerns.

In 2007, a former boss convinced Mr. Tuttle to join the NYSE’s global affairs team, a job whose responsibilities involved welcoming foreign leaders to the Big Board. Mr. Tuttle says he has hosted more than 100 sitting heads of state at the NYSE.

Mr. Tuttle, who is 38 years old, now oversees listings, capital markets and exchange-traded products for the NYSE.

Among the talents that have helped him succeed, colleagues say, is an extraordinary memory. At an NYSE town-hall meeting in 2016, he was asked to name all the Australian prime ministers who had visited the exchange. He stunned the audience by giving their names and the dates of their visits. Some employees, thinking the event was staged, bombarded him with more questions. He correctly answered them.

NYSE traders gathered on the floor on Sept. 30, the day of Palantir’s IPO.

NYSE traders gathered on the floor on Sept. 30, the day of Palantir’s IPO.

Photo: Courtney Crow/Associated Press

Write to Alexander Osipovich at alexander.osipovich@dowjones.com

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