NEW YORK – SIFMA, the U.S. securities industry's largest trade group, named former Senator Judd Gregg as chief executive officer, in a move that may signal a desire to mend fences with ordinary Americans and U.S. Congress.
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association had been expected to give the post to interim chief executive and president Kenneth Bentsen, a veteran lobbyist, said a person close to the group.
Instead, it split up the functions, naming Bentsen as full-time president with a mandate to influence a slew of rules regulators are now writing to govern trading, investment banking and mutual and hedge fund investing.
Gregg, whose bipartisan credentials include two terms as governor of New Hampshire, three as senator, four as congressman, and one-time nominee for Secretary of Commerce in U.S. President Barack Obama's cabinet, said he will leave legislative maneuvering to Bentsen while he rallies the public about the need for preserving efficient U.S. capital markets and cheap access to credit markets.
Republican Gregg left the Senate in 2011.
The trade group, whose members include large and small brokerage firms, banks and asset management firms, has long worried about losing the trust and confidence of individual investors. But since the 2008 financial crisis, the issue has moved beyond retail brokerage firms to the industry as a whole.
At a hastily convened news conference in New York on Monday, Gregg said capital markets and access to inexpensive credit are the core fuel of the U.S. economy. "There won't be jobs on Main Street" without them, he said.
Gregg, who said he was a prime supporter of the multibillion-dollar bailout of banks in 2008, withdrew his nomination to serve in Obama's cabinet when he realized he would not be able to support the president's budget policies to stimulate the economy. On Monday he said he will have to make changes in his investment portfolio and possibly resign from other commitments, but will remain co-chairman of the bipartisan Campaign to Fix the Debt.
Gregg has served as a senior international adviser to Goldman Sachs Group Inc . A Goldman spokesman did not immediately comment on Gregg's current role with the firm.
Gregg liberally dropped the names of current legislators at the news conference and said he is aware of pressure from "populist" corners of the electorate against the markets.
"My personal view is we've taken a lot of hits as 'those nasty bankers' responsible for the Great Recession, and that much of it has been politically motivated," said Curt Bradbury, president of Stephens Inc, Arkansas's biggest brokerage firm and a member of the SIFMA board.
Bradbury was not on the search committee, which won full board approval last Friday for the Gregg appointment. He said he supports the hire as well as the "promotion" of Bentsen, a former congressman and nephew of former Texas senator Lloyd Bentsen, even if it should moderately drive up SIFMA's compensation budget.
SIFMA has not previously separated the roles of CEO and presidents, but had co-CEOs as late as 2006.
A trade group spokesman declined to comment about compensation.
Gregg replaces Timothy Ryan, a banker and former regulator who resigned as president and CEO in February after almost five years to rejoin JPMorgan Chase & Co . A former savings and loan company regulator, Ryan also previously worked at JPMorgan as vice chairman for financial institutions and governments.
At SIFMA, Ryan earned $3 million in 2011, the last year for which the group's tax forms were available.
(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Matthew Lewis)