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U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt to Step Down Before Mid-February 2001



Washington, D.C., December 20, 2000 – Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt today announced that after seven and one-half years he would step down as Chairman before mid-February 2001. Levitt, the SEC's longest-serving chairman, made the announcement to the Commission staff in the SEC's William O. Douglas Room. Chairman Levitt did not indicate his future plans.

Chairman Levitt is the 25th Chairman of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. First appointed by President Clinton in July 1993, the President reappointed Chairman Levitt to a second five-year term in May 1998. On September 9, 1999, he became the longest serving Chairman of the Commission.

Chairman Levitt delivered the following remarks to the Commission staff:

Thank you all for joining me this morning. For the last almost eight years, I've had my dream job. I've been able to work on issues that I have been deeply passionate about since I first began my career in the securities business as a broker nearly 38 years ago. Day in and day out, I had the opportunity to work alongside and, especially learn from the most brilliant, dedicated and selfless group of public servants anyone could hope to work with.

When I walk the halls of the SEC, I routinely see – in office after office – the public good being selflessly promoted; whether it's by a young securities lawyer a few years out of law school whose professional persona will very much be shaped by the values he or she is exposed to, and the dedication he or she is imbibed with; the former Big 5 accountant who gives his all to ensure that the integrity of corporate financial reporting is maintained; or the examiner in the field held up in an office reviewing compliance records.

I've also had the opportunity to travel around the country and speak to thousands of individual investors. And with each passing year, with the rise of the baby boom, changing retirement patterns and markets that sometimes defied the laws of gravity, I witnessed more and more first time investors, our friends and neighbors, whose hopes and aspirations became inextricably linked to the health and resiliency of our markets.

I think back to those first few town hall meetings. We were lucky if we attracted 75 people. Today, audiences at our town hall meetings routinely number in the thousands. Just a few weeks ago, at a town hall in Atlanta, I fielded questions about the SuperMontage, pro forma financials, earnings management, analyst conflict of interest disclosure and a host of other sophisticated subjects.

The rise of the individual investor in the last decade is one of the most powerful and striking developments in the history of our capital markets. While technology and competition are two reasons for the emergence of the retail investor, one, in my mind, is foundational: Public confidence. Much of the genesis for that confidence rests with each of you who pass through the doors of this building every day with the mission of protecting the investor's interest. It has been my greatest honor to be a part of that tradition, part of the espirit de corps that separates this agency from any other in Washington.

In the past, it's been fashionable to vilify government. Those who do have never spent much time in this building. The simple truth is I revere this institution and the people who give its mission life.

In the last few days, I've notified the White House as well as the incoming Administration that I intend to step down as SEC Chairman early next year. While I look forward to my return to private life and the beginning of new challenges, this is a day I knew would come but long have dreaded.

I will miss greatly your professionalism, your integrity and your friendship. In an odd way, I'll even miss the coffee at the Wall Street Deli. I'll miss meeting someone coming up to me with an idea on how we can get more meaningful disclosure; on how we can help investors help themselves to get a better price or better advice; on how we can make our markets fairer, our accounting practices stronger, our financial products more transparent. I will miss the passion that defines so much of what you do each day in seeing to it that the unscrupulous in our markets get what they deserve.

I leave here with one regret, however. We spent the last year trying to secure what all of you so plainly deserve: pay parity. I am disappointed that Congress passed our budget without that provision. But our efforts have only just begun. I know that the Commission will continue to fight for it and I have received commitments from many members of Congress and the heads of our appropriations and authorizing committees to support pay parity early next session. And while I may not be here, you can bet that I will still be calling anybody on the Hill who will take my call to press the case until this injustice is corrected.

I want to thank my fellow Commissioners through the years and Commissioners Hunt, Carey and Unger who are here today. Each of you has been an immeasurable source of support, insight and camaraderie. I will miss Ike's sartorial lectures as much as his legal ones – even his occasional grumpy complaints. I will miss Paul's jokes during the open meetings even though some of them really weren't that funny. I will miss Laura's frequent presentations on technology – even though I suspect Laura thought my understanding of technology didn't extend beyond E-Bay.

The division directors and office heads have performed their jobs with loyalty, intelligence and an unflagging sense of what is fair and right for America's investors.

To the staff in my Office – Mary Middleton, Linda Vaughn, Ronnie Gillette, Hilda Harding and Brenda Bell, thank you for answering the phones, telling me what my next appointment was and how late I was for it. You helped make our office a pleasure to work in.

I cannot express my appreciation enough to Carol Morrow who has been with me for more years than she cares to admit. When I first found out I was coming down to Washington, I told Carol it would only be a year. Carol, I'm sure you know by now, but I lied.

I owe my greatest debt of gratitude and love to my wife, Marylin, and my family. I have a confession to make. Many of you know by now that I usually come into work with my best ideas. There's a reason for that. Each night I go home and recount the challenges of my day to Marylin and inevitably she'll see something I've missed. Marylin also has put up with a lot. Dinners with and about accounting. Endless sermons on Plain English. Countless cocktail chatter on price/time priority.

More than once, I would come home exercised about audit committees or the accountants or execution quality. And, more than once, she questioned my sanity on how anyone could become so passionate about such subjects. But, Marylin's support and love and my children's affection have been the sustaining forces in my life. And so I promise not to talk as much about auditor independence or payment for order flow for at least a while.

To those of you here who preceded me like Caite McGuire, Jack Katz, Bill Atkinson, Bob Colby, John Heine, Tom Newkirk and many others and to those no longer here, you established a tradition that made excellence the standard and failure unthinkable.

To those who are yet to come, the mandate is clear: No political tide, no flaws of ambition will sidetrack the patriots of this agency from a noble duty fashioned and nurtured for 66 years. The stakes are high and the payoff enormous. If we stand by and for investors, above all else, we protect the vitality of our markets, the richness of our heritage, the weight of our political independence, and the high ideals of our country.

May God bless all of you, this agency, and the country. Thank you.