Transcript: Former NYSE Head James Needham

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This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, September 16, 2003, that was edited for clarity.

Watch Your World w/Cavuto weekdays at 4 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Dick Grasso (search) feeling the heat over that $140-million payout. Officials from CalPERS, the big California retirement fund, saying that Grasso needs to step down so the New York Stock Exchange (search) can restore its moral authority.

Well, they’re not the only ones telling Dick Grasso to hit the road. Angry New York Stock Exchange floor traders have been saying it in increasing numbers, and now one of Grasso’s predecessors is saying it.

Joining me now live on the phone from Southampton, New York, James Needham. Mr. Needham, the man who ran the New York Stock Exchange from 1972 to 1976.

Mr. Needham, thank you for joining us.


CAVUTO: You say Dick Grasso has to go. Why?

NEEDHAM: Well, I think it’s pretty apparent at this point that he has done a very fine job for us, but the truth of the matter is that his board hasn’t been of assistance to him. They’ve come up with these cockamamie ideas on compensation and they just misled him.

You’re supposed to have a board that supports you and gives you good ideas and prevents you from getting into trouble, and Dick didn’t have that kind of treatment. That’s why I feel the way I do. He goes because it’s just too late to save him, and the board goes because they showed incompetence at this time.

CAVUTO: Now when you were running the big board, how much were you making?

NEEDHAM: I’m not sure of that, but I think it’s $500,000. It could be less.

CAVUTO: So $500,000 in the early ‘70s -- that would be worth at least a couple of mil today.

NEEDHAM: You think so?

CAVUTO: I don’t know. You’ve got to be careful here because I’m doing the math in my head.

NEEDHAM: Well, I don’t have a couple minutes.

CAVUTO: OK. But, having said that, these figures got way out of whack for Dick Grasso. Now, to his defense, he has been arguing well I didn’t take the $6 million to $7 million this would average out each year. I piled it up in this fund that was collecting 8 percent interest free. What do you make of that?

NEEDHAM: I don’t have any opinion on that. I just know the impact that it has caused, and that’s what I’m dealing with. I’m not dealing with his judgment.

CAVUTO: Do you think he was paid too much?

NEEDHAM: I can’t answer that question. I know I wasn’t paid enough.


CAVUTO: So there’s a gap between what you were making and what he was making.

NEEDHAM: Yes, but I don’t want to make anyone to think I’m jealous.

CAVUTO: Now you talked to him, right, and you...


CAVUTO: You also talked to SEC Chief Donaldson...


CAVUTO: ... again a former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange,. How were those conversations?

NEEDHAM: Both of them were good. I mean I spoke to the chairman and I told him -- that’s Dick -- and I told him how I felt about what’s going on with this board. I felt they should go.

CAVUTO: And you told him he should go.


CAVUTO: And what did he say?

NEEDHAM: That the board goes. When the board goes, everybody goes.

CAVUTO: Right, right. But when you told him that, what did Dick Grasso...

NEEDHAM: He didn’t say anything. He just listened. The point that he makes is that he never asked for all of this money, so end of story.

Then I spoke with the chairman of the SEC because, first of all, he’s a longtime friend of mine; secondly, I called him a few weeks ago, and, as chairman go, he was busy, and he finally called me right after I spoke to Dick, and so I told him what I had said to Dick and that’s how it all started.

CAVUTO: All right. Now do you think the New York Stock Exchange chairman should be paid on the basis of what other financial titans are paid?


CAVUTO: All right. So what do you think? Mugs game though it might be, Mr. Needham. What do you think is a fair salary for the guy who runs the stock exchange?

NEEDHAM: If I could get a seat from the Stock Exchanges for making that statement, I would do it, but they’re not about to give me a seat. So I’m not going to stick my neck out. I don’t know what it should be. I don’t know. But it isn’t what we’ve seen.

CAVUTO: But, bottom line, Dick Grasso has to go?

NEEDHAM: And, sadly, that is true because his board let him down.

CAVUTO: All right. Mr. Needham, thank you very much. Enjoyed having you.

James Needham who ran the New York Stock Exchange from 1972 to 1976.

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