Arthur Levitt, Jr.

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Arthur Levitt, Jr.

Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, Kings County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Arthur Levitt, Sr. and Dorothy Levitt

Managed by: Alex Bickle
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Arthur Levitt, Jr.

Arthur Levitt Jr. (born February 3, 1931) was the twenty-fifth and longest-serving Chairman of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from 1993 to 2001. Widely hailed as a champion of the individual investor, he has been criticized for not pushing for tougher accounting rules. Since May 2001 he has been employed as a senior adviser at the Carlyle Group. Levitt previously served as a policy advisor to Goldman Sachs and is a Director of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News.

Early life and career

Growing up in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, Levitt received his first exposure to the world of finance through his father, Arthur Levitt Sr., who served as New York State Comptroller for 24 years and was sole trustee of the largest pension fund in America at the time. As a boy he attended Brant Lake Camp, a summer camp for boys in the Adirondacks. While in Brooklyn, he attended and graduated from Poly Prep Country Day School in 1948. Subsequently, Levitt graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams College in 1952, before serving for two years in the Air Force. He first worked as a drama critic for The Berkshire Eagle, and after the Air Force, he was with Time-Life for five years before selling cattle and ranches as tax shelters.

In 1963, Levitt joined the relatively young brokerage firm Carter, Berlind & Weill, founded just three years earlier by Sanford I. Weill. Levitt's name was eventually added to the firm's when it was renamed Cogan, Berlind, Weill & Levitt in the mid-1960s although through a series of mergers the firm eventually evolved into Shearson Loeb Rhoades. This experience with retail customers was a source of his interest in the small investor. After sixteen years on Wall Street, Levitt became the Chairman of the American Stock Exchange (AMEX) in 1978. In 1989, he left the AMEX to serve as Chairman of the New York City Economic Development Corporation until 1993.

Before joining the SEC, Levitt owned Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill, which he purchased from the paper's founder, Sid Yudain, in 1986.

Chairman of the SEC

Levitt was appointed to his first five-year term as Chairman of the SEC by President Clinton in July 1993 and reappointed in May 1998. He left the Commission on February 9, 2001, and was succeeded by Harvey Pitt. Levitt has said that he first learned of his being considered for the job from The Wall Street Journal.

At the time Levitt came to the SEC, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) had proposed requiring companies to record stock options on their income statements, which split the accounting industry and was opposed by many in the American business community. According to a Merrill Lynch study, expensing stock options would have reduced profits among leading high-tech companies by 60% on average. Congress began to exert pressure on the FASB, and on May 3, 1994, the Senate, led by Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, offered a non-binding resolution urging FASB not to adopt the proposed rule; the vote in favor was 88–9. Concerned that insensitivity to this sentiment in Congress might threaten FASB as an independent standard setter, Levitt urged the FASB to not go ahead with the rule proposal. He later said this "was probably the single biggest mistake I made in my years at the SEC."

In September 1998 at New York University, he gave a speech entitled "The Numbers Game". It addressed five ways in which corporations were managing earnings (big bath charges, creative acquisition accounting, cookie-jar reserves, materiality, revenue recognition). In his speech, Levitt advocated improving the transparency and comparability of financial statements.

In 1997, the SEC under Levitt's leadership approved the exemption of some Enron partnerships from the tight accounting controls of the Investment Company Act of 1940. Without this exemption, critics maintain, the company would have been constrained by strict rules found in 1996 legislation that would have prohibited certain foreign investments and the shifting of debt to its foreign subsidiary shell companies.

During Levitt's tenure at the SEC, he was widely viewed as a pro-investor advocate and received favorable press coverage. More recently he has come under criticism for failing to act against 1990s bull market abuses and not uncovering Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

After the SEC

Mr. Levitt serves on the Board of Directors for RiskMetrics Group.

In 2005, Levitt was named a special advisor to the American International Group's board of directors and the board's nominating and corporate governance committee following the resignation of CEO and Chairman Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, who left after an investigation into the firm's accounting practices by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Levitt oversaw an audit published in August 2006, by Kroll Inc. – where he is a consultant – describing how the City of San Diego had allowed a pension deficit of $1.43 billion. The report blamed around 30 city officials, including five incumbent council members. Kroll charged the City of San Diego $21 million for the report, with Levitt's time billed at $900 per hour.

Awards and honors

In January 2001, Levitt received the "Award for Distinguished Leadership in Global Capital Markets" from the Yale School of Management.

The Arthur Levitt State Office Building in downtown Manhattan was named for him until it was sold to private developers in 2000.

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Arthur Levitt, Jr.'s Timeline

February 3, 1931
New York, Kings County, New York, United States