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10 Years of Power 100: Mary Jo White

Worth takes a look back at the former Securities and Exchange Commission chair’s path to power, the power play that landed her at the top of 2013’s Power 100 list and where she is now.

Power 100 Mary Jo White Mary Jo White. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images. Graphic by Amy Petriello

The former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission topped the Power 100 list in 2013. Here, Worth looks back at Mary Jo White’s path to power, the power play that landed her in the top spot and where she is now.

What We Said Then

Path to Power: A native of Kansas City, Mo., White graduated first in her class from Columbia Law in 1974 and would become the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. For most of the past decade, she’s advocated for bank clients as head of litigation at Debevoise & Plimpton. In January, President Obama picked White to head the SEC.

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Power Play: White has vigorously pushed investigations, enforcement actions and prosecutions against financial sinners; in just six months she has brought charges against more than 40 companies, municipalities and individuals. She has also sought admissions of wrongdoing, a break from the flimsy SEC policy of allowing defendants to “neither admit or deny” alleged crimes. In August, White forced an admission of market manipulation from hedge funder Philip Falcone; she is pressing for similar accountability from JPMorgan in connection with its $6 billion London whale trading loss. This is no longer the spineless, clueless SEC that missed signs of the financial crisis and Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. White’s era promises to not only curb white-collar crime but also to impose a new era in finance, one in which rules matter and rule breakers face consequences more painful than just writing a check.

Where White is Now

Not everyone was happy with White’s tenure at the SEC. Elizabeth Warren was particularly harsh and, in October 2016, formally requested that President Obama dismiss her. In November 2016, White announced she would step down at the end of Obama’s term. Since then, she has weighed in on issues of domestic violence; in 2017 she was a member of a National Football League advisory panel on the issue. White is now the senior chair at white-shoe law firm Debevoise & Plimpton.

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