“Not Dick Whitney. Not Dick Whitney!” President Franklin D. Roosevelt exclaimed upon being told Richard Whitney, the long-time president of the New York Stock Exchange, was a criminal. Almost ten years earlier, on October 24, 1929, Black Thursday, as one newspaper’s headline put it the next day, “Richard Whitney Halts Stock Panic.” In 1934, he appeared on the cover of Time magazine, hailed as the leader of the securities industry in its fight against New Deal regulation. Whitney’s message was clear: the securities industry could regulate itself, and the federal government should stay out.
Impeccable Connections tells in rich detail the remarkable account of a well-connected gentleman’s extraordinary life and gives details of the banking and investment structure that precipitated the stock market collapse of 1929. As president of the NYSE, the story depicts how Whitney played his role even as he manipulated powerful and trusted friends. While Whitney’s name might be less common than Bernie Madoff, Ivan Boesky or Charles Keating, his rise to the top of Wall Street and fall to Sing Sing was all the more dramatic because he started at the top of the old-guard establishment.
Impeccable Connections: The Rise and Fall of Richard Whitney by Malcolm MacKay tells the fascinating story of one of the biggest scandals and scoundrels in American finance that resulted in the securities regulations that are in today’s headlines. Richard Whitney, a man whose family was ‘old Massachusetts’ but not wealthy or particularly distinguished, and whose father had risen from a clerk to a successful importer and banker. Richard followed his older brother George to Groton, Harvard, the college’s socially elite Porcellian Club, and Wall Street.
Known as ‘the voice of Wall Street,’ Whitney became the leading opponent of federal regulation of the securities industry, testifying in Washington, and speaking around the country (often broadcast on national radio). Power, money and social position were all his. A successful bond broker whose largest client was the Morgan bank, he lived in a grand manner. Imagine the nation’s shock when, in 1938, he was sent to Sing Sing for embezzling clients’ securities! Addressed by both guards and fellow prisoners as “Mr. Whitney,” befitting his social position, Whitney was released early in 1941 for good behavior, having served only 3 years and 4 months out of a 5 – 10 year sentence. After Whitney’s fall, the New Deal reforms of the securities industry became secure.
Whitney would live for more than three decades, surviving his loyal wife and supportive brother George, who made good on all Richard’s failed loans and fraud. After a few false starts in various businesses, he spent the remainder of his life as the treasurer of a local dairy owned by a Far Hills neighbor, living in a cottage on a local estate.
Malcolm MacKay skillfully recounts the life story of Whitney, a man who was known to be an insufferable snob and a scoundrel, and also offers remarkable insight into the psyche of the man himself. As a young man, Malcolm MacKay, who knew the much older Whitney personally, thought a great deal about Whitney’s actions, always wondering, ‘Why did he do what he did?’
Malcolm MacKay has written several local histories and articles published in leading newspapers and magazines. He is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
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