Alumni Profile: Annette L. Nazareth ’81
Critically involved in solving some of world’s most important financial issues, Nazareth brings a dual perspective to her work.
When asked which Columbia Law School professor had the most influence on her career, former Securities and Exchange Commissioner Annette L. Nazareth ’81 is eager to discuss one name: Harvey J. Goldschmid ’65. Nazareth was first introduced to the now late professor in the 1970s as a student in his Corporations class, and she later served as his research assistant. But Goldschmid’s influence grew deeper when the pair worked together at the SEC in the late 1990s. When President George W. Bush appointed Nazareth as an SEC commissioner in 2005, she even succeeded to Goldschmid’s seat.
“To become colleagues was such a great honor,” Nazareth says, noting the uniqueness of taking over for her mentor. “It’s a great Columbia story.”
Nazareth’s career, both in the private and public sectors, is also a great Columbia story. Now a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell in Washington, D.C., she originally joined the firm as a corporate law associate in 1981. She moved to the SEC in 1998, serving as senior counsel to then Chairman Arthur Levitt and as interim director of the Division of Investment Management.
After only six months, Nazareth was promoted to director of the SEC’s Division of Market Regulation (now the Division of Trading and Markets). This was the position she held on September 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., halted trading. During the next several days and into the weekend, Nazareth worked with her SEC colleagues to systematically close the markets and assess their readiness to reopen. “We knew if we were going to open, we had to do it successfully, to send a message to the world that we were undeterred,” she recalls.
Nazareth’s work earned her a spot as an SEC commissioner, and she served in that role until January of 2008, just months before the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy caused the chain reaction that resulted in the most recent financial crisis. While regulators scrambled to codify stricter reforms and consumer protections, Nazareth returned to Davis Polk to help guide clients—and the firm—through the storm.
“The idea was to rejoin Davis Polk as the senior partner in D.C. and focus the firm’s attentions on Dodd-Frank, while building a practice with a full trading and markets purview,” Nazareth explains. In the months and years following the crisis, Davis Polk initiated the unorthodox strategy of broad knowledge sharing on the new legislation, posting comprehensive guidance on the firm’s website free of charge. “We were showcasing our knowledge and deep understanding of the new legal and regulatory landscape,” she adds.
In 2011, while still grappling with the lasting effects of the financial crisis, Nazareth received a lifetime achievement award from Traders magazine as part of the publication’s inaugural “Wall Street Women of Excellence” awards. She was recognized for her ability to successfully navigate such a “hyper-competitive and male-dominated industry.”
Now back at Davis Polk for eight years, Nazareth feels at home at the firm where she began her career. Her many years working in the government—on complex regulatory matters similar to those she continues to tackle every day—complement her current work. Her perspective as a former regulator, Nazareth says, informs her understanding of the purposes of various regulations, and helps her better serve her clients.
“I believe it makes me a very good advocate,” she adds, “and enables me to foster consensus on effective and efficient ways for clients to achieve their goals.”