November 28, 2012

Elisse Walter: New SEC Chair (Until “Longer Term” Successor is Found)

Hmm, where do I begin? I did take pains to be correct in my blog yesterday about Commissioner Walter’s ascension to serve as Chair of the SEC. I rarely am wrong in this blog and proud of that fact. But yet, I blew it when I called Elisse an “Acting” Chair – even though loosely she will be. Let me explain.

Shortly, after the SEC’s “Schapiro is stepping down” press release came out, the White House issued this statement that Elisse would be “designated” as Chair. Even though I recognized that as ambiguous, I took that to mean she would be tapped as Chair and even tweeted so. Then I started seeing prominent publications (eg. WSJ) note that Elisse would be temporary and serve on an interim basis.

So I backed off my tweet in subsequent tweets – and I originally blogged yesterday that Elisse would serve as “Acting Chair.” This certainly would not be unprecedented as Laura Unger served as Acting Chair for six months in ’01 and Cynthia Glassman for three in ’05. So it’s not unusual for a sitting Commissioner to serve in that capacity.

But it’s now clear that Elisse will be serving simply as the Chair; not in an “Acting” capacity. However, the White House has mentioned that the President intends to nominate a long-term successor before Elisse’s term ends in December 2013. So unless Elisse is tapped for that, her term as Chair will be only a year or less (here’s a Reuters article with details about Elisse’s career). Capiche?

Learn more about what exactly a SEC Commissioner does – and much more – in next week’s webcast: “How the SEC Really Works.”

Does It Matter Whether Someone Serves as Short-Term Chair vs. Acting Chair?

Okay, is this all a lesson in semantics? Or is there substance over form? I don’t think it matters in terms of substance. Maybe it’s designed to give Elisse greater clout to get through some of the rulemakings that the SEC has been pushing. Until a fifth Commissioner is appointed to break the potential 2-2 political gridlock, that might not matter much.

Where it does matter is on the SEC’s historical list of who has served as a Chair. Apparently, Acting Chairs don’t cut it – so Laura Unger is not considered the first woman to serve as SEC Chair. That honor goes to Mary Schapiro. And of course, “Chair” looks better on a resume compared to “Acting Chair”…

A Former Corp Fin Staffer Takes the Helm!

For me, Elisse’s rise is notable for her background. Elisse served as Corp Fin’s Deputy Director (back when the Division only had one) in the late ’80s. From my research, she is only the second SEC Chair to have served in Corp Fin – with former Director Manny Cohen being the other in the late ’60s. That is awesome!

Poll: Who Will Become the Next Longer-Term SEC Chair?

Please guess who will be tapped to serve as SEC Chair after Elisse’s term expires in 2013:

Online Surveys & Market Research

– Broc Romanek