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Incoming SEC Chairman Elisse Walter: Not Only a Lawyer - But A Math Major, And Daughter of a CPA!

Following the announcement by the SEC this morning that Chairman Mary L. Schapiro was leaving the Commission on Dec. 14, 2012, a Statement was released by President Barack Obama this afternoon thanking Chairman Schapiro for her service, and designating Commissioner Elisse Walter as the new Chairman taking on that title upon Schapiro's departure.

According to the White House Statement, the President said of the outgoing and incoming SEC Chairmen:

I want to express my deep gratitude to Mary Schapiro for her steadfast leadership at the Securities and Exchange Commission. When Mary agreed to serve nearly four years ago, she was fully aware of the difficulties facing the SEC and our economy as a whole. But she accepted the challenge, and today, the SEC is stronger and our financial system is safer and better able to serve the American people – thanks in large part to Mary's hard work.

I am also pleased to designate Elisse Walter as SEC Chairman after Mary's departure. I'm confident that Elisse's years of experience will serve her well in her new position, and I'm grateful she has agreed to help lead the agency. 

Incoming SEC Chairman Walter Not Only a Lawyer - and Math Major - But Daughter of a CPA!

My two cents - (please refer to the disclaimer on the right side of this blog): CPA's and other financial executives may rejoice in that the incoming Chairman of an agency often described as "overlawyered" (see, e.g. former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt's 7/26/06 WSJ column, attached as pg. 18 of his Sept. 2011 Congressional testimony) will have at its helm, in Elisse Walter - yes, a lawyer, and apparently a darned good one at that  (having previously held very senior level positions at a number of regulatory agencies, including having previously served as Director of the Division of Corporation Finance of the SEC, in addition to serving as a Commissioner) - but also with her background as a math major, and perhaps even moreso, and something she has spoken of in speeches to audiences of CPAs and financial exec's - having grown up in a family where one parent was a CPA. Being exposed to a family member in any profession shines a light on the pressures and incentives, the pros and cons, from both a technical and emotional/interpersonal point of view, particularly depending how long the relative is in the profession and how old the child/teenager is as they observe the reaction of the parent/relative to those pressures/demands and sense of pride in a job well done.

We have noted a couple of Walter's speeches in past posts in this blog in which she has cited her lineage as the daughter of a CPA in remarks before accountants, such as the annual AICPA SEC and PCAOB Conference in Dec. 2009, in which she said: 

My appearance here today is special to me for a number of reasons. First, I will confess not only to being a math major who once dallied with the thought of accounting as a career, but also to being the daughter of a CPA who, for many years, served as the CFO of a publicly-held company. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I believe so strongly in the role your profession plays.

Similarly, in remarks at a dinner of the Financial Accounting Foundation (which oversees the FASB) in May, 2012, Walter said: 

Several years ago, towards the beginning of my term as SEC Commissioner, I gave a speech and talked about the Chinese proverb, "May you live in exciting times."

There is little doubt that, indeed, we all do. Now, whether you consider this a curse or a blessing, that's up to you. I'm a Pollyanna, so I'll go with blessing.

To me, some of the most exciting times I've encountered over the past (almost) four years as an SEC Commissioner have been spent working on accounting and auditing issues.

Perhaps this is because, as some of you may know, I am the daughter of a CPA, and I'm genetically predisposed to care about these issues. 

Walter's speech to the FAF is one speech I'd strongly encourage you to read in its entirety. It might even keep you on the edge of your seat (especially if you are commuting to/from work on a subway, bus or train while you're reading it!). Seriously, I'm not going to quote more excerpts since I believe its worth reading the full text of this speech. 

Could Walter Continue to Serve as Chairman Beyond 2013?
Commissioner Walter's first 5-year term officially ended on June 5, 2012 according to the SEC's Concise Directory.  Therefore, she is ascending to the Chairmanship of the SEC as a sitting Commissioner. Appointment of Commissioners must be confirmed by the Senate, but the President's choice from among the Commissioners as to which Commissioner he chooses to designate as Chairman is his.  

As further explained on the Current SEC Commissioners page, no more than 3 commissioners may belong to the same political party, to ensure the SEC remains nonpartisan; furthermore, terms of the commissioners are staggered to maintain continuity in the ability of the commission to continue its role in rulemaking, etc. 

Is it within the realm of possibility that President Obama could nominate Walter for a second term as Commissioner and to continue her role as Chairman when she fulfills her current term in 2013 (Commissioners of the SEC, and PCAOB, typically can stay on for a period of time prior to their term being renewed or another commisioner / board member being appointed).  Both are possible; i.e., any appointment reappointment of a Commissioner to the SEC is at the President's discretion and subject to Senate confirmation; the President's choice of who to designate among the five Commissioners as Chairman of the SEC is similarly at his discretion.  

Exciting Times!
As Commissioner Walter said in her speech to the FAF, these are exciting times! (Or, as we noted earlier today, The Times, They Are A-Changing.) We wish both incoming and outgoing Chairmen Walter and Schapiro all the best in their future endeavors. 

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Posted: 11/26/2012 6:53:40 PM by Edith Orenstein | with 2 comments
Filed under: Mary Schapiro,President Obama,SEC Chairman,FAF,SEC,Elisse Walter


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Comments
Ms. Edith Orenstein
Mr./Ms. "Most People,"
I have approved your comment for posting in an effort to be unbiased, although I personally think the appointment is exciting for 2 reasons:
1. How many people 6 degrees, let alone 1 degree - from a CPA - have been appointed Chairman of the SEC - not Chief Accountant, but Chairman? This adds a knowledge set, and if not a knowledge set, I believe an affinity for or patience with the nuances and necessary pace of accounting standard-setting and its related due process. Historically, the SEC has backed a move toward 'global accounting standards,' whether a single set or a common set is something wherein the final debate may lie, but someone who is sensitive to these matters and willing to spend time on them and work with accountants within and outside the agency can play a major role in keeping the U.S. in the game and not simply an observer
2. I think continuity at an agency with the generally highly regarded history of the SEC counts, and putting a sitting Commissioner in to serve as Chairman is a confidence builder for the staff. Please note these comments represent solely my own views. Thank you for sharing your views as well, we encourage readers to share their views on this blog.
11/27/2012 1:32:45 PM
Most People
Actually just another lawyer in an political appointed position. Nothing new to see here and certainly no basis for excitement.
11/27/2012 1:20:36 PM

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Edith Orenstein