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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
Profile: Richard Grasso
Richard Grasso
Grasso failed to justify his $140m salary
Richard Grasso, who resigned as chairman of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) amid rage over his $140m pay deal, was a local New Yorker who had reached the top from humble beginnings.

In the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, it was Mr Grasso who defiantly dragged the New York Stock Exchange back on its feet within days, restoring investor confidence in the functioning of financial markets, and cementing his image as an American hero.

Mr Grasso was in charge of overseeing the modernisation of the exchange in the boom of the 1990s, when he fended off stiff competition from the automated Nasdaq market site which had specialised in the high tech dot.com companies.

During his leadership, the New York exchange grew enormously, adding dozens of new company listings.

'Sex and the City'

Up to now, the life of Mr Grasso, aged 57, was classic proof of the American belief that anyone can rise to the top by hard work and dedication.

Bought up in lower-middle class Queens, New York, by his mother and aunts after his father left his family, he started work at the exchange as a floor clerk in 1968, after failing to graduate from Pace University and a brief spell in the army.

New York Stock Exchange
Grasso started as a floor clerk
Rising to become the NYSE's president and chief operating officer, then vice-chairman and eventually its chairman in 1995, he was the first person to ever be elected to all these positions in the exchange's 211-year history.

Both popular and personable - Mr Grasso has always been the NYSE's greatest believer - he was interviewed on television with every new listing and was also happy to make a guest appearance on the hit television show "Sex and the City".

And he also served on a number of worthy boards, including that of the National Italian American Foundation and the New York City Police.

Firemen comparison

But the former chairman failed miserably in justifying his gargantuan salary, which one member of the board allegedly thought was a typing mistake.

The institution should not be preoccupied with talking about the compensation of its leader
Richard Grasso

The US Securities and Exchange Commission demanded to know how the quasi-public body would be able pay so much money, given that it only made a $28m profit last year.

The chairman's dictatorial response was that the "institution should not be preoccupied with talking about the compensation of its leader".

But it was not the sour grapes of high-paid Wall Street executives that finally brought Mr Grasso down, but calls by public service pension funds for him to resign.

One pension fund official from California asked Mr Grasso on live television how could have accepted a $5m bonus for his work after 11 September when firemen and police officers who risked their lives got so little.

Such perceived gross injustices could not be reconciled with his role as an American hero.

The BBC's John Terrett
"The reason behind Mr Grasso's resignation was a loss of investor confidence"

NYSE chief resigns over pay row
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SEC questions NYSE chief's pay
02 Sep 03  |  Business
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05 Jun 03  |  Business
New York market dispute heightens
08 Aug 03  |  Business

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