Commuters pass by the NASDAQ Marketsite in New York

Welcome to the rough and tumble world of working at Nasdaq OMX. For the second time in three years a highly regarded executive at the US exchanges operator has quit unexpectedly.

On Monday, Eric Noll, who led transaction services for Nasdaq’s US and UK businesses for the past four years, left to become chief executive at brokerage ConvergEx.

His move has shocked insiders and caught many industry watchers off-guard. He had emerged as the top internal candidate to succeed Robert Greifeld, whose decade-long tenure makes him one of the industry’s longest-serving chief executives.

It comes just two years after Adena Friedman, chief financial officer and Nasdaq’s chief strategist, left to take on the same role at the Carlyle Group.

Tom Wittman, another senior vice-president and head of Nasdaq’s Philadelphia exchange options trading business, is a likely replacement for Mr Noll, some people have said.

Mr Noll spearheaded two of Nasdaq’s main initiatives this year; a push into the fixed-income market with the $750m purchase of eSpeed and the launch of fixed-income derivatives venue NLX in London.

He had also been the main defence to occasional criticism over the depth of management below Mr Greifeld. Throughout, he remained an active voice in contentious equity market structure debates and helped to relieve pressure on Mr Greifeld as Nasdaq dealt with the fallout from recent technology problems – the Facebook IPO and the August trading halt – that have brought scrutiny over its US equities.

After building a steady reputation across the industry, for his expertise in equity markets and leading the diversification push, why depart now?

Mr Noll, who had been executive vice-president since 2009, was clear enough. “I wanted to be a CEO,” he said in an interview.

His departure to ConvergEx will take him out of the limelight that comes with working for the second-largest US stock exchange operator. ConvergEx is privately controlled by buyout group GTCR and Bank of New York Mellon.

However, the spotlight will not be too far away as he will have to deal with settlement talks between ConvergEx and US authorities who are pressing ahead with civil and criminal charges against the broker for allegedly overcharging clients.

Some former and current employees have suggested that the move may have been driven by the difficulties of working in Nasdaq’s corporate culture. Some former executives have said that Mr Greifeld’s style of management is to keep the company’s top brass in constant competition, allowing him to “rule the roost”.

Turnover of top executives has been high in recent years. Ms Friedman had risen through the ranks over an 18-year period before her unexpected departure. Others such as Chris Concannon, who held Mr Noll’s position before leaving for high-frequency trading firm Virtu in 2009, and David Warren who was chief financial officer before Ms Friedman, also departed unexpectedly. Mr Warren has since become the chief financial officer at the London Stock Exchange.

But was Mr Noll ever in line for the top job? Others have suggested that Mr Noll may have lacked the management abilities to take over from Mr Greifeld, and as Nasdaq’s board weighs its options his name may have slipped down the list. For Mr Noll, the ConvergEx job is an opportunity to disprove that.

Another suggestion is that the board is more minded to look externally for a successor to Mr Greifeld, who once again finds himself without a leading voice by his side.

He has managed to steer Nasdaq for the past decade, and has the support of his board and a contract to 2017. And in spite of recent problems, he can point to a healthy share performance this year.

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