Remarks at the William O. Douglas Award Presentation at ASECA Annual Dinner
Chief Executive Officer, FINRA
Thank you, Elisse, and thank you all for being here tonight. I am honored by your presence.
Over the years, I've learned that the most precious commodity these days is time, so I am very grateful that you have taken the time to be here this evening.
I'd like to acknowledge my daughter Molly, who is here tonight as well, and was, in fact, born during my time at the SEC.
And, I must tell you, I am especially proud to have Elisse Walter introduce me tonight.
For 20 years, since the day I arrived at the SEC in 1988, Elisse and I have worked together. And for the last 14 years we've worked side-by-side, every day, at the CFTC, NASD and now FINRA.
The fact is, neither tonight's award, nor the wonderful career I have had, could have been possible without so many people, many of whom are here tonight, and two in particular—Elisse and Steve Luparello.
Steve was my counsel at the SEC, he was my chief of staff at the CFTC, and now he's head of regulatory operations at FINRA.
When you work with colleagues of their caliber and commitment, you cannot fail.
They, along with so many others throughout my years as a regulator, always knew, and still know, how to help me focus on what is truly important.
So tonight, I view this award as recognition of all of the people who have worked alongside me for all these years to strengthen the cause of investor protection in our country.
I'd like to thank Marti Cochran for her hard work in making tonight possible. Serving as President of ASECA is no easy task. It's a demanding, time-consuming job, and she's the one who always gets stuck with the bar bill on nights like these. Thank you, Marti.
It also goes without saying that I'm truly honored by Chairman Chris Cox's presence here tonight as well.
Chris has done a tremendous job as Chairman and I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for making it possible to bring together two world-class regulatory organizations—NYSE Regulation and NASD—into FINRA, and reuniting me with my colleague Rick Ketchum, who brilliantly led the Division of Market Regulation in the '80s and '90s.
Chris's tenure as Chairman will forever be marked by his sincere commitment to making self-regulation better and more robust than it was when he began his term. It's been an honor to work with you, Chris.
This isn't the first time I've had the opportunity to speak at an ASECA dinner. Back in 1999, I had the privilege of speaking on the night Steve Hammerman was given the William O. Douglas award.
When I was asked if I would speak, I thought, "Wow, this is a great chance to really talk about a 'vision'…to really examine the future of regulation."
So I labored day and night to prepare an important and, admittedly, pretty dense policy speech.
Well, can you blame me? The audience was full of serious professionals. This was an opportunity to share high-minded thoughts. The best and the brightest in our business were all gathered in one place.
But after a three-hour cocktail party and more than a few bottles of wine at dinner, the audience wasn't quite in the mood for a long exposition on the relative merits of securities and commodities regulation.
So I promise you, I have my learned my lesson well and I will be very brief tonight.
When I reported for my first day of work at the SEC, I came as an "outsider." I had never been on the staff, I hadn't practiced law at a prestigious corporate law firm and I had never worked in-house at an investment bank. In fact, I came to the SEC from the—at best, not well-understood, at worst, highly suspect—world of derivatives.
There was a lot of skepticism about me and my abilities in those days. Some wondered if I would fully appreciate and respect the importance, tradition and the spirit of the SEC and its institutional devotion to the public good.
Well, I did understand and to help send that message, I asked Stanley Sporkin to swear me in as Commissioner.
It was the beginning of a six-year tenure that was always fascinating and always challenging, dealing with issues of enormous importance to our markets, investors, industry and the economy.
Through it all, I had the privilege to serve as a Commissioner under three great Chairmen—David Ruder, Richard Breeden and Arthur Levitt—and with incredible colleagues—Joe Grundfest, Ed Fleischman, Phil Lochner, Carter Beese, Rick Roberts and Steve Wallman—come to mind.
Looking back, those days and those experiences prepared me well for the crises and challenges I would face in the years ahead.
And as the years went by, we saw the markets and regulation experience a remarkable transformation fueled by technology and globalization.
Yet, when I think about the financial issues that regulators are facing today, it's occurred to me that in so many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In the years immediately following what we euphemistically called the "1987 market break," we were dealing with the huge dislocations that highlighted the dramatic impact of derivatives trading on market volatility and threatened the health of financial institutions.
Also in the late '80s and early '90s, I'm sure many of you remember, the SEC launched a major initiative to combat penny stock fraud and blank-check offerings.
While fraud is something we will always have to battle, an article just last week in the Wall Street Journal reported that the number of blank-check offerings is again rising significantly.
Even much of the talk of regulatory reform that swirls around us today was front and center back in the early '90s—reorganization of the federal regulatory structure, mutual recognition and global competitiveness, and adoption of international accounting standards.
In fact, the multi-jurisdictional disclosure system with Canada was approved during my time at the Commission.
There was also the heated debate on the Commission in the '90s about the limitations of the regulatory regime surrounding rating agencies. And, there was a strong desire on the part of some of us for greater transparency and oversight of these critical gatekeepers to the capital markets.
Of course, we're hearing similar refrains today about rating agencies.
One of the most public and divisive issues we tackled during my SEC tenure was proxy access—whether shareholders should be permitted to withhold votes for Board members and to what extent corporations could deny a place on the proxy for shareholder proposals. Very familiar issues today…
Obviously, I could go on and on, just to illustrate the point that if you're around long enough you'll visit and re-visit familiar issues over and over, perhaps with a few new wrinkles, but largely the same issues nonetheless.
But our efforts are not in vain. We all need to remember that we aren't simply plowing the same old ground.
These are issues that are naturally inherent in our markets and each new generation of SEC staff and Commissioners will be challenged to confront these problems again and again and push the ball forward inch by inch.
It may not be glamorous…it may be contentious at times…but that's how we make progress.
Well, as I said, the last time I spoke, I learned a valuable lesson about brevity, so I'll end it here.
Although I'm not a particularly political person, and I realize we're in the House of Reagan tonight, I'm going to end with a thought from a Democrat, because I think it gets to the heart of what is so special about the SEC and its alumni.
Campaign strategist James Carville once said, "Outside of a person's love, the most sacred thing they can give is their labor."
When he said it, Carville was talking to a roomful of true believers working and volunteering on a political campaign.
But the same can be said of everyone in this room. We are all true believers at heart, or we wouldn't be here.
We were drawn to the SEC because we believe that with our labor we can make a difference—in the lives of investors and in the strength of America's capital markets and economy.
The SEC is an enduring institution because throughout its history it has been staffed by smart and dedicated public servants. Every day, people put their trust in the markets, and when they do, they're putting their trust in the SEC.
I'm honored to be among you tonight. I'm thankful to all of you and the Board of ASECA. I am humbled by this award and I'll always be proud of this institution and what it stands for.
Thank you so much for listening.