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King of the Club: Richard Grasso and the Survival of the New York Stock Exchange

King of the Club: Richard Grasso and the Survival of the New York Stock Exchange

by Charles Gasparino

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Rags-to-riches stories abound in American lore, but even Horatio Alger would have been hard-pressed to write one as powerful as Richard Grasso's: the son of a working-class family whose childhood dream was to become a cop. He grew up in New York City's outer boroughs, far removed from the marble halls, expensive suits, and imported cigars of the New York Stock


Rags-to-riches stories abound in American lore, but even Horatio Alger would have been hard-pressed to write one as powerful as Richard Grasso's: the son of a working-class family whose childhood dream was to become a cop. He grew up in New York City's outer boroughs, far removed from the marble halls, expensive suits, and imported cigars of the New York Stock Exchange. Here is the riveting story of how he rose to become the most influential CEO in the Exchange's history. Minus the tony upbringing, affluent prep schools, or inside connections that were de rigueur for top Wall Street players, Grasso would master the subtle deal-making and politics necessary to succeed in the most competitive business on Earth. But despite his successes, Grasso would soon sow the seeds of his own downfall, an event that would change the Exchange forever.

The King of the Club paperback edition, featuring a full update on the story, chronicles the amazing rise, fall, and possible rise again of Richard Grasso, and also tells the modern history of the all-powerful institution that he came to symbolize: The New York Stock Exchange.

Editorial Reviews

Though well known in business circles, New York Stock Exchange chairman Richard Grasso was just a name to the general public until the day in 2003 when news of his mammoth deferred compensation package erupted through the media. Almost overnight, the chief executive previously dubbed "The Little Guy in the Dark Suit" became transformed into "The $140 Million Man." But, as Charles Gasparino ably demonstrates in King of the Club, the story of Grasso cannot be encompassed by a nickname or an anecdote. The author of Blood on the Street describes the story of the improbable rise of the son of a single mom from NYSE floor clerk to chief executive of the world's greatest financial exchange.
Financial Times
Gasparino [is] a great reporter.... Mr. Grasso's story is spectacular.
—Tunku Varadarajan
The detail in which Gasparino describes the boardroom back-stabbing is as thorough and compelling as a reader will find in any book about Wall Street.
—David Weidner
Bloomberg News
Gasparino, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, had excellent access to [Grasso]. . . . This, combined with the author's entree to financial Goliaths such as former Merill Lynch & Co. CEO David Komansky and Home Depot Inc. co-founder Kenneth Langone, steep the book in rich detail. . . . He paints a portrait of the goings-on at NYSE board meetings that only tireless reporting and good connections can provide. . . .The book does a great job at describing Grasso's efforts to market an institution that by many accounts has been on the slow journey to extinction ever since the invention of the microchip.
—Susan Antilla
The New York Times
Charles Gasparino . . . provides a blow-by-blow account of Mr. Grasso's remarkable rise and fall . . . . At the same time, Mr. Gasparino provides a rare inside glimpse of how financial titans like Henry M. Paulson Jr., the former Goldman Sachs chairman who is now Treasury secretary, conduct their affairs. It is not a pretty picture, but it demands the attention of anyone who cares about capitalism in this country.

The Wall Street Journal
[Charles Gasparino] describes, in page-turning detail, a Wall Street world of ruthless financial titans . . . .

o collection of courtroom documents will ever tell the story behind [Grasso's] ouster, in all its nasty detail, as well as Mr. Gasparino does in King of the Club.

[A] rigorously reported tome. . . . Rags-to-riches stories may provide inspiring myths about the possibilities of making it to the top in New York, but this tale of one man's path from rags to riches to ridicule is more compelling for being true.

A fascinating, methodical and in-depth account of Grasso's rise and fall during some of the NYSE's most tumultuous years. . . . Gasparino's retalling of how Grasso got the NYSE back on its feet quicky after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is particularly absorbing, and the book is peppered with colorful anecdotes.

Library Journal

CNBC correspondent Gasparino (Blood on the Street) has written a masterly story of the rise and fall of Richard Grasso, former chair of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). It's a rags-to-riches saga that shows Grasso climbing the corporate ladder from impoverished childhood in Queens, NY, to becoming one of the most powerful men in America. The author provides insight into the evolution of the NYSE before, during, and after Grasso's tenure and focuses on the important point that in addition to being a business, the NYSE is also a regulator, an inherent tension producing frequent conflict during Grasso's era. An especially revealing section is the behind-the-scenes look at how the NYSE deftly responded to the tragic events of 9/11, largely owing to his leadership. Overly ambitious and possessed of both a mercurial disposition and an explosive temper, Grasso was also a brilliant tactician who aimed to modernize the institution he governed, though he resisted going as far as embracing electronic trading. Interestingly, his last great battle was over his own executive compensation, ultimately leading to his downfall. Even with these obvious character flaws, there is no denying that Grasso had a substantial impact on the NYSE, and Gasparino captures all detail quite skillfully in his probing, fast-paced, and hugely entertaining book. Highly recommended for larger business collections.
—Richard Drezen

Conference Board Review
“Gasparino has done his homework. He has talked to the people who matter, and King of the Club is rich with their recollection of their roles in Grasso’s rise and fall.”

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Read an Excerpt

King of the Club
Richard Grasso and the Survival of the New York Stock Exchange

Chapter One

It's Good to be King

September 11, 2001, started out as a typical late-summer day in New York. More than 350,000 people filed into the lower Manhattan financial district on a bright, sunny morning when tragedy seemed to be the furthest thing from anyone's mind. Grasso arrived at the office that morning at his usual time, 7:00 A.M., prepared to ring the opening bell with executives from Bergen Brunswig Corporation, a pharmaceutical company that was listed on the exchange, but first he went through the newspapers, and as always he had CNBC on the tube. Company officials were already in the exchange, assembled in the dining hall. By now Grasso had established a certain ritual for all companies he convinced to pay a fee of as much as $500,000 annually to have their shares listed to trade on the New York Stock Exchange; company officials and his senior staff would attend an elaborate breakfast where Grasso would extol the virtues of the world's greatest stock market. From there it was off to ring the opening bell, where companies would be treated to one of the greatest PR stunts in corporate America.

At around 8:50 A.M., Grasso was running late, attending to some housekeeping items in his office and watching CNBC's Squawk Box morning show, when he received a call from one of his top officials, deputy enforcement chief David Doherty, whose job it was to make sure trading at the exchange was done legally. Grasso loved to hire former law enforcement officials: his driver was a former cop; his security guards wereex-NYPD vets as well. Doherty had served in the CIA before coming to the exchange a few years earlier to work under enforcement chief Ed Kwalwasser, himself a former SEC attorney. Part of Grasso's recent battle with City Hall had been to get New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani to use city funds to expand the exchange's historic headquarters on the corner of Wall and Broad streets to accommodate all five thousand of its employees and stock traders.

There had been some testy moments in the negotiations. Giuliani had all but accused Grasso of being greedy; Grasso had told Giuliani he was giving the exchange, the anchor of the lower Manhattan economy, short shrift. But Grasso had won concessions from the mayor, and he was in the planning phases of building a new high-rise across the street at 33 Wall. In the meantime, Doherty and his enforcement staff were scattered throughout various locations in downtown Manhattan, including the north tower of the World Trade Center, where Doherty was reporting what looked like a bizarre accident: the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the state agency that owned the twin towers, was alerting tenants that a small plane had hit the top floors of the north tower.

Doherty said he wasn't overly concerned. In fact, the word from the authority brass was to stay calm and that under no circumstances should people be evacuated. That's when Grasso noticed something on CNBC. The business station had a remote camera located just across the Hudson River and zoomed into the area of impact. Huge clouds of black smoke and flames could be seen shooting from the top floors of the 110-story edifice. Grasso wasn't an expert on plane crashes, but he knew this was more serious than some hang glider flying into one of the country's and the world's tallest buildings. "Dave," he said with his eyes glued to the screen, "this is no small plane, get them out now."

The exchange had 140 people on the third floor of the north tower. All of them left promptly except one, a security guard named Oliver Smith, who wanted to make sure a quadriplegic enforcement attorney had made it out alive. Grasso, meanwhile, canceled his listing breakfast and alerted his staff that he was going to walk over to the trade center to see what was happening.

At the corner of Wall and Broadway, Grasso noticed that the sky was filled with white ash, smoke, and flames. He went no further because his chief of security, James Esposito, grabbed him from behind. "Hey, you can't go over there," Esposito said. Esposito is an imposing man with wire-rimmed glasses who had spent most of his career, more than twenty-five years, as an FBI agent. He had just received a report that a second plane had crashed into the south tower. And things were worse, at least according to the reports Esposito had been given. These were no accidents. They were a concerted effort on the part of terrorists.

Grasso now got a clear view of the trade center. It reminded him of a tree that had been chopped with an ax. All four sides of both towers were now blackened with smoke and engulfed in flames. "This ain't no small plane," he repeated to Esposito.

"We've got to get you out of here," Esposito responded.

Grasso and Esposito couldn't believe their eyes; throngs of people, men in their suits and women in their high heels, running for cover as the towers burned. The two hightailed it back to the exchange. Grasso was fifty-five years old, but he ran as if he were twenty-five. By now the word was out on the street—literally—that large jets had crashed into the trade center, and it was an attack by terrorists, probably Muslim extremists. A massive crowd assembled on Broad Street, many of them employees and traders of the exchange, staring in the direction of the trade center, watching the carnage.

As events unfolded that morning inside the trading rooms and on the streets of lower Manhattan, chaos ruled. People watched in horror as bodies began falling from the twin towers. Most, like Grasso, ran for their lives, ducked into stores, or hid under cars and trucks to escape the falling debris. A few looked for ways to make money.

King of the Club
Richard Grasso and the Survival of the New York Stock Exchange
. Copyright © by Charles Gasparino. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Charles Gasparino is a senior correspondent for the Fox Business Network and the Fox News Channel, where he reports on major developments in the world of finance and politics. A former writer for the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, he has also served as a columnist for the New York Post and The Huffington Post as well as a contributor to The Daily Beast, New York Magazine, and Forbes. Gasparino is a recipient of numerous business journalism awards, including the prestigious Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for The Sellout. His other noteworthy books include Blood on the Street and King of the Club.

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