During a nearly 50-year career, he’s been in the vanguard of many of Wall Street’s trends. In 1959 he was one of the founders of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, a new-style brokerage house that dedicated itself to producing first-rate stock analysis. Many firms were soon building big research departments. In the early ‘70s, two decades before Goldman, Sachs & Co. co-chairman Robert Rubin left the Street for Washington and the Treasury, Donaldson took a job at the State Department, working for Henry Kissinger. And just as investment bankers were discovering opportunities in insurance, Donaldson surfaced as the CEO of Aetna.
His knack for both anticipating and participating in trends has made him a favorite of Institutional Investor writers: He has been quoted in countless stories dating back to the 1960s. Donaldson first made the cover of II in May 1974 and -- 29 years later -- appears there again this month.
At age 72, the Wall Streeter has embarked upon yet another assignment: President George W. Bush cajoled Donaldson into coming out of semiretirement to overhaul the Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal agency that’s been pilloried for failing to detect everything from dodgy corporate accounting to tainted equity research.
The SEC chairmanship holds a profound philosophical appeal for Donaldson. As the founding dean of the Yale School of Management from 1975 to 1980, he spearheaded an effort to apply private sector skills to public sector organizations. Indeed, “in just about everything he’s done since DLJ,” says Senior Writer Justin Schack, “Donaldson has tried to get those two mutually wary worlds -- the private and the public sectors -- to work more closely to solve common problems.” For Schack, who spent more than five hours with the SEC chief for this month’s cover story (“Getting Down to Business,” page 34), Donaldson is a familiar subject: Schack also wrote our July 2000 cover story, “Can Bill Donaldson Save Aetna?”
Donaldson’s current assignment is his most ambitious yet, Schack says. The SEC is an understaffed, underappreciated agency that has been outflanked by aggressive state attorneys general, is wrestling with how to regulate the burgeoning hedge fund industry and must contend with mutual funds’ opaque fee structures -- just for a start. Donaldson has bolstered staff morale and unveiled a bold restructuring plan. How well this historic overhaul -- and his own Wall Street legacy -- fare won’t be known for years, but when it is II will be there to offer its assessment.