When John Thain took over the New York Stock Exchange in December of 2003, many observers viewed the two-century old market as a fading giant, sure to be overtaken by its faster all-electronic rivals.

The NYSE was mired in scandals over the lavish pay of its former chairman, Dick Grasso, and the behaviour of its floor-traders.

Less than three years later, Mr Thain, a former top Goldman Sachs executive and Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering graduate, has dramatically overhauled the NSYE and put it on the brink of major global expansion through a merger with pan-European market operator Euronext.

A Euronext deal would follow the NYSE’s $10bn acquisition of electronic-trader Archipelago and its emergence as a publicly-traded company after nearly 214 years as a clubby member-owned institution.

Mr Thain, once viewed as a potential successor to Goldman chief Hank Paulson, took a pay cut from about $11m a year to $4m a year to join the NYSE. Friends say he made the switch because of the technological and strategic challenges inherent in turning round the NYSE.

Mr Thain, known as a soft-spoken, intelligent technocrat, became an operations executive and protégé of former Goldman chief executive Jon Corzine.

Mr Thain helped overhaul Goldman’s risk management model after significant losses for the firm in 1998 and led its recovery from the September 11 2001 attacks.

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