Why Friends Call SEC Chair Mary Jo White 'Sid Vicious'

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In the week's issue of The New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann profiles Mary Jo White, with friends and colleagues describing the SEC chair " as the most competitive and driven person they have ever encountered."

Lemann charts the career of the "plainspoken" White, who loves Fleetwood Mac, tennis, and requiring Wall Street bigwigs to acknowledge wrongdoing in SEC settlements.

White has moved between Debevoise & Plimpton, a major New York law firm, and the federal government.

"White’s life is about working, and winning," Lemann writes. From the profile:

White is plainspoken and doesn’t seem slick or fancy. Every year, she holds a Super Bowl party. Her favorite band is Fleetwood Mac. Her favorite charity is the A.S.P.C.A. She has had the same cohort of intimate friends since the seventies—three or four women who worked together in the U.S. Attorney’s office and helped form a female basketball team there. When she returns to New York on weekends, they still try to have dinner, and they go on occasional trips together. She does not put her competitiveness aside when conducting her social life. She and her husband, John White, have a tennis court at their country house, in upstate New York, where her style of play led her friends to give her the nickname Sid Vicious. After she organized a team to run in an athletic event called the Great Race, and it finished second, she successfully petitioned the race officials to create a special certificate for her team to take home. She makes sure to win even at Boggle or crazy eights. Although she is a sports fan (baseball first, especially the Yankees, football second, horse racing third) and often invites people to join her at games, she doesn’t carry on conversations while the ball is live. She doesn’t read much for pleasure. She doesn’t belong to a church. Her large apartment, on the Upper East Side, is said to look about as lived-in as a suite in an extended-stay motel. White’s life is about working, and winning.

White has overseen an arguably "tougher" SEC, from rejecting a settlement with hedge funder Philip Falcone to personally implicating SAC's Steve Cohen in his firm's insider trading scandal to forcing JP Morgan to admit wrongdoing in the London Whale trading mishap.

As an aside, Reuters' Felix Salmon points out a few factual error in the piece. " I’m not sure what to make of all this, except to say that the New Yorker really doesn’t get finance," Salmon writes, or that Lemann gets special dispensation commensurate with his title as the  former dean of Columbia Journalism School.

Read the full profile at The New Yorker »



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