The SEC’s African American Council hosted Richard R. Best, the Director of the Division of Examinations (EXAMS), for a fireside chat about his background and the career path that brought him to his new position.
"I always wanted to be an attorney, but I was not initially focused on financial regulation," Best explained. "In college, I majored in computer science, and after law school I planned to defend the intellectual property rights of software makers. However, my criminal law and criminal procedure classes taught me about things government can do to proactively help people, and after graduating I served as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx."
After about 10 years as an assistant district attorney, Best talked with a friend at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and pursued a career in securities regulation. Best started as a staff attorney in the NYSE’s Division of Enforcement, which later became the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). In 2015, Best fulfilled a long-time goal of joining the SEC when he became the regional director of the Salt Lake City Regional Office. In 2018, he left Salt Lake City to lead the Atlanta office and then went on to lead the New York office. Best became acting director of EXAMS in March 2022 and permanent director in May 2022.
Best said when he assumed the director role, the scope and number of different areas the division covers surprised him. As an example, he mentioned that when a market event happens, the EXAMS team works together to determine whether the event will affect SEC registrants. And when policy divisions are considering rulemaking, EXAMS teams are there to provide input. The division conducts examinations of registered entities across the U.S. and in other countries, examines self-regulatory organizations and exchanges, and maintains an ongoing dialogue with the securities industry. “There’s so much happening in EXAMS that I didn’t fully grasp as a regional director. It’s been an exciting four months so far.” Best said his vision for EXAMS includes assisting Chair Gensler with his agenda, helping people understand all the division does, and creating opportunities for team members to advance their careers and enhance their skills.
When asked about the obstacles he has faced as an African American in the financial sector, Best mentioned that his pre-COVID work travels took him to places like Idaho, rural Georgia, southern and central Utah and other places where the African American population is extremely small. "Traveling to those places, I would come across people who had varying views about diversity," he noted. "In some places I visited, the population of African Americans was below five percent historically, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if no one had ever come across someone like me in their personal life or professional career. I was determined that whatever views they had, they were going to meet me and see the best me, and I would develop relationships that could change those views. I came away with quite a few connections based on that outlook."
Best finished by giving career advice to the participants. He noted that sometime around the year 2000, he prepared a resume-like document that he calls the “Life Plan.” It had the last job he hoped to have in his career, and worked back to his then-current job. In the document, he filled in dates and accomplishments he would need to reach that last position. Best said that the SEC was in the Life Plan a full 15 years before he started at the Commission.
When asked about career regrets, Best said, “I should have created the Life Plan earlier, but I still have that document. It’s with me all the time.” He advised participants that if they have things they would like to accomplish, they should write them down, put dates on them, and that will help them keep track of their progress and hold themselves accountable. ”You wouldn’t leave the house to have dinner without a plan,” he said. “Why would you do that with your career?”
Modified: Sept. 15, 2022