Tom Von Essen was New York City’s Fire Commissioner on September 11, 2011. Despite Tom’s 26 years with the FDNY his ascendance to its highest office was unorthodox for several reasons, one being that he served as President of the Uniformed Firefighters Association whose 9,000-plus firefighters were at times at odds with the Mayor’s office on contract negotiations and other matters. Tom’s actions as union boss were driven primarily by his concerns for the safety of firefighters and a belief that any fire department should be equally judged by how well they prevent fires as they are for putting them out. These two hallmarks helped earn his appointment by Mayor Giuliani in 1996.
Some will disagree with what I am about to say, but I believe our industry’s regulators are very efficient at catching bad actors and nefarious behavior. In other words, they do a very good job putting out fires. When it comes to prevention, however, more can be done. Our industry is filled with people and firms who want to do the right thing. People who want to know and understand the right processes and procedures for their firms and the customers they serve. Increased complexity in our markets goes beyond the execution of a trade. The breadth and depth of compliance are massive and when combined with “ignorance is not a defense” it is easy to understand why good people with good intentions get caught up in regulatory actions.