Proposed SEC Chief is a Team Player, Unlike Predecessor Breeden


Arthur Levitt Jr. likes to go mountain climbing with colleagues because it brings people closer together.

He may have plenty of chances to do both if he becomes the next chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The tall, lean 62-year-old newspaper publisher and former chairman of the American Stock Exchange was picked by President Clinton late last month to be the nation’s top stock market regulator, subject to Senate confirmation.


Departing SEC chief Richard Breeden’s relations with colleagues, corporate executives, banks and other regulators were sometimes stormy.

But people who know the soft-spoken Levitt say he will bring a spirit of consensus to the agency that monitors stock exchanges, mutual funds, publicly traded companies, brokers and other Wall Street professionals.

Breeden, 43, a lawyer and former Bush White House aide, is stepping down a few weeks before his five-year term expires.

He made headlines--and enemies--as an SEC chairman with a hardheaded approach, staking out positions and then arguing forcefully for them before Congress, in the press and at industry gatherings.

But people close to Levitt, the son of one of New York’s most popular politicians--Arthur Levitt Sr., who was New York state comptroller from 1955 to 1978--say he will take a different tack.

The year before he became Amex chairman in 1978, Levitt participated in the Outward Bound program, where small groups test their limits climbing mountains and living in the wilderness.


Levitt saw the survival trips as a good way to break down barriers among Amex board members, listed companies and the exchange trading floor. To get them to work together, he took small groups mountain climbing during the 11 years he was at Amex--and is still doing it.

An excursion to the Colorado Rockies is scheduled for this year.

“He’s a reality-based visionary,” said Barry Rogstad, president of the American Business Council, a group Levitt founded in 1981 to lobby in Washington for medium-sized, growing companies--the kind that predominate at the Amex.

To New York Finance Commissioner Carol O’Cleireacain, overseer of the city’s $45-billion pension fund, Levitt is “a prince” who also “understands what government needs.”

Many people familiar with Levitt say he will need that vision and political skill to run the SEC.

“There are a mind boggling number of issues that are coming up,” Northwestern University law professor and former SEC Chairman David Ruder said.

A 1952 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Williams College, Levitt was president of Shearson Hayden Stone Inc., the firm that later became Shearson Lehman Bros., from 1969-78.


Although the number of companies traded on Amex fell from 1,004 to 895 during his tenure, Levitt managed to avoid criticism of his leadership, which some observers say indicates a political savvy that will come in handy in Washington.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Levitt still lives in New York with his wife Marylin. They have two children, a son, 34, and a daughter, 33.

Levitt has declined to discuss his agenda at the SEC with the press until the confirmation.

But in a speech to the Securities Industry Assn. the week before his selection, Levitt indicated he had “serious concerns” about a number of issues, including cash payments to brokerages for routing their customer orders to one market over another.