David Glockner parses his words mindfully, taking care not to spill a drop of language, as if his lifetime reserve were about to be tapped. And after nearly nine months as the director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Chicago office, maybe that’s a good thing. His words really matter.
Glockner, 53, took the job at the financial regulator last November after a brief stint in private practice. But make no mistake, he’s a natural public servant.
“I wanted to work in a field where I’d have the opportunity to serve the public and deal at a practical level with challenging public policy problems,” he said.
But the SEC isn’t just any government agency. It oversees the securities industry, including stocks and derivatives, which were first popularized on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
In recent months, JP Morgan, Bank of America and BNP Paribas have all paid billions of dollars in fines for defrauding investors. Financial regulators are becoming aggressive while pushing for unprecedented penalties for misconduct.
As banks and money managers are facing stiffer penalties, the administrators who push for harsher enforcement are getting more press. But Glockner prefers to stay out of the spotlight. His role as more than just doling out punishment.
“Success has to be measured in terms of the SEC’s overall mission, which is to protect investors, maintain the integrity of markets, and promote capital formation,” he said.
“This means maintaining vigorous and proactive examination and enforcement programs, which do as much as possible to identify and head off problems early on.”
But it’s getting harder to conduct those examinations and enforce laws with limited government resources, said Merri Jo Gillette, his predecessor at the agency.
“At the time I left, our office had maybe just under probably 230 people,” she said.
“It had actually shrunk in terms of headcount from when I first took the position.” Gillette estimates the Chicago office had more than 250 staffers when she arrived.
Gillette is in private practice at a Loop law firm, but ran the Chicago office from 2004 until 2013. The workload always grew, but the budget often didn’t keep pace, she said.
“It’s kind of like being handed five pieces, if you’re lucky, of a 10-piece jigsaw puzzle,” she said.
But Glockner’s long track record as a “very even-keeled, very thoughtful” manager in government makes him well-suited to the task, Gillette said, adding that he is “not prone to make shoot-from-the-hip, snap judgment-type decisions.”
Glockner spent more than 25 years building a career at the U.S. Attorney’s office. He specialized in prosecuting financial and technology crimes but also helped prosecute high-profile cases. He served as deputy special counsel in the Scooter Libby trial, prosecuting former Vice President Dick Cheney’s former aide for leaking the identity of a CIA operative.
For Glockner, success doesn’t just mean prosecution.
“It also means maintaining open lines of communication with investor and industry groups, as well as other financial regulators,” he said. “And it means maintaining an environment in our office that encourages innovation and energy, both because we need those qualities to deal with the challenges around the next corner, and because that’s a fun environment to work in.”