When you're the chairman of the United States' largest stock exchange in an age of terrorism, war, corporate scandal, bankruptcy and economic sluggishness, you tend to take the good news where you can get it.
New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso recently did just that when the international energy company ScottishPower presented him with its Values Award. Company officials said they honored Mr. Grasso for his "strong stance on corporate governance, his leadership during and following Sept. 11, and his work in driving international business at the NYSE." ScottishPower is listed on the NYSE.
Mr. Grasso said he was honored to receive the award, which came with a bottle of whisky - which derives from the Gaelic for "water of life" - in a wooden box with the inscription "Thanks, Dick" on the lid. He then summed up Sept. 11, Enron, WorldCom, the recession, widespread accounting scandals, massive corporate bankruptcies and the constant threat of terrorist attacks and war overseas, saying, "We have faced a series of challenges in our capital markets over the past 18 months that have tested our collective strength."
Mr. Grasso's strength certainly has been tested. The NYSE is only a couple of blocks from Ground Zero; and it has felt the corporate economic pain of many of the companies it lists. In August, Mr. Grasso faced criticism for failing to file financial disclosure forms relating to stock compensation he earned as a director of Computer Associates International Inc., which is listed on the NYSE. Then, at a September speech, angry pension fund executives told Mr. Grasso the stock exchanges reacted too late to corporate scandals and demanded that he and the NYSE do more to boost investor confidence.
This year, the NYSE is facing a revolt among some listed companies over a change in its fee structure.
In the meantime, though, Mr. Grasso can look back on the Jan. 13 Burns Night Supper at which he received the award, as well as a helping of haggis, a traditional Scottish dish of lamb organs, onions, herbs and spices all cooked, chopped and packed sausage-style into a casing of sheep's stomach.