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David Craig says he’s running Refinitiv as “a $6-billion startup,” but as he begins to write the first chapter in the history of the new firm, he’s hardly starting from a blank page.

Refinitiv, which is legally named Financial & Risk US Holdings Inc., is the result of a US$17-billion deal to spin it off from Thomson Reuters Corp. The news and information giant sold a 55-per-cent stake in its financial and risk business to a consortium led by private equity heavyweight Blackstone Group LP. The transaction closed on Monday.

Prior to the deal, the assets now held under Refinitiv accounted for more than half of Thomson Reuters’s revenue. Now, it stands alone with 40,000 clients in 190 countries and more than US$6-billion in annual revenue, backed by a group of influential investors and a pile of debt. And the central challenge for Mr. Craig, its chief executive officer, is to kick-start faster revenue growth and compete more aggressively with rivals such as Bloomberg LP by cutting costs and making the firm more nimble.

“We’ve got great tailwinds and momentum," Mr. Craig said. “I think every 12 months we’re adding a [percentage] point of growth to [revenue]."

Unlike a startup, Refinitiv is already a big ship that takes time to build up momentum. Under Thomson Reuters, the financial and risk division was in turnaround mode for years and had been built through acquisitions that needed to be laboriously stitched together. “When I picked this business up, it was definitely challenged,” Mr. Craig said in an interview. Only lately had the division shown early signs of picking up steam.

Mr. Craig joined Thomson Reuters in 2007, after the merger of Thomson Corp. and Reuters Group PLC, and took over as president of the company’s financial and risk department in 2012. A British native who enjoys rugby and sailing, he’s based in London and will work closely with Brian West, a former executive at The Nielsen Company, who will join Refinitiv as chief financial officer in November.

The Woodbridge Co. Ltd., the controlling shareholder of Thomson Reuters, also owns The Globe and Mail. Thomson Reuters retains a 45-per-cent stake in Refinitiv.

One of Mr. Craig’s first priorities is cost-cutting: Refinitiv has an ambitious plan to slash US$650-million in annual costs. About $300-million of that sum will come from reducing staff over “a couple of years,” partly by removing “layers of management,” he said. But the rest will come from streamlining costs in areas such as technology, procurement and real estate.

Some of those savings will go toward servicing the company’s debt, after Refinitiv completed a recent US$13.5-billion loan and bond financing. But Mr. Craig also plans to reinvest a large share of the savings into the business, and has a capital budget of about US$500-million to allocate to priority areas such as developing machine learning capabilities, digitizing businesses and helping clients combat financial crime, which Mr. Craig describes as “an unsolved problem.”

Refinitiv is building a “lighter, faster” version of its Eikon desktop platform in an effort to close the gap with rival Bloomberg, which has held a comfortable lead in market share for desktop terminals that are popular with banks, trading houses and hedge funds. Mr. Craig hopes Refinitiv’s open stance toward developers and partners will help Eikon stand out.

The company also sees major opportunities to invest in artificial intelligence, which relies on vast troves of data to get smarter – and those data sets are Refinitiv’s stock and trade.

For the first year, the plan is to make investments in Refinitiv’s existing assets. But Mr. Craig said he’ll soon be on the lookout for tuck-in acquisitions, and has funding support from Blackstone and its partners in Refinitiv, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC – “if the case made sense.”