BusinessCompany NewsPitt: Bear of a man emerges from siege

Pitt: Bear of a man emerges from siege

'Been there, done that, it's not worth talking about.' That was how the larger-than-life Harvey Pitt dismissed calls for his resignation when he rolled into Brussels last month to address a European accounting conference.

Links: SEC chief Harvey Pitt resigns

and SEC in crisis

But was obvious that it was worth talking about, as less than a month later Pitt is now out of office.

Two US Senators were demanding his scalp after the botched attempt to recruit a chairman of the newly created US accounting oversight board – a month later they got it.

The now former head of the US Securities & exchange Commission was hardly in the bear pit at the conference, but one sensed a hint of the siege mentality about his presentation.

Throughout his visit he maintain a diplomatic position by saying he was prepared to listen to European concerns over the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the legislation brought in to counter recent financial scandals in the US.

But one was left with the feeling that listening would not be backed up with action.

‘It is the law,’ he said. ‘We are duty bound to implement the letter and the spirit of the legislation.’

And he was almost dismissive of European concerns, saying: ‘As with beauty, the interpretation of major problems is in the eye of the beholder.’

A great bear of a man, Pitt epitomises the archetypal American lawyer, his figure having benefited from years of power lunches, often with the Big Five accountancy firms as they fought a guerrilla war with Pitt’s predecessor Arthur Levitt.

As you would expect of a legal man, Pitt was very careful with his words when he addressed the Brussels conference.

But his audience knew exactly what he meant when he opened up a bargaining position by referring to the possible impact of EC legislation on US financial institutions.

His position was clear – if you back off from the extra-territorial powers of the consolidated supervison of financial conglomerates directive, we’ll back off from our own extra-territorial powers.

Such horse-trading is typical of the American corporate lawyer.

Another trait Pitt displayed was his obvious patriotism – wherever he goes, the man proudly sports a stars and stripes lapel pin – a reminder that the USA would always be front of mind with any dealings with foreign institutions.

Pitt held a press conference after he addressed the conference – it was cut short for another pressing engagement.

Another power meeting with the European Commission? No, it turned out to be lunch; the man has to eat after all.

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