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March 1, 1998

Mr. Berkeley Goes to Washington: Eagle Scout, Huck Finn Fan and Former Prankster Has the Whole (N

By Jim Cassidy

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  • Mr. Berkeley Goes to Washington: Eagle Scout, Huck Finn Fan and Former Prankster Has the Whole (N

Alfred R. Berkeley III, a 6 feet 3 inch former rugby player, once shouldered a cow onto the roof of a university building.

That college prank, however, does not compare with a much weightier matter now on his shoulders supporting the world's second-largest stock market, arguably through the most tumultuous period in its history.

Even so, Berkeley does not underestimate a challenge, including that now infamous prank 32 years ago at his alma mater, the University of Virginia, where a 250-pound black Angus was summoned to action.

"Oh, no," Berkeley recalled in an interview with Traders Magazine, "it was a lot heavier than that."

The Hot Seat

Berkeley is no longer playing pranks, and life is much busier. Berkeley, in fact, hasn't had many slow days since he became president of Nasdaq in June 1996. "I don't know that I fully comprehended how much of a hot seat it would be," he said. "But I'll tell you, I'm absolutely convinced we're doing the right thing."

Well, he proved that before. "He was always very much a deep thinker, and very sure of himself," said Mike Murphy, a former equity trader and partner at Alex. Brown & Sons, who worked years ago with Berkeley, then an analyst at the blue-blooded Baltimore-based firm.

Murphy, now head of trading at New York-based buy-side firm Kerns Capital Management, added that like many people at the firm back in the 1970s, Berkeley wore many hats. "He was even involved in institutional marketing," Murphy recalled. "He was smart and he helped turn Alex. Brown into a national-type firm."

The challenge today is different. The National Association of Securities Dealers is being remade from the ground up, and one of Berkeley's first jobs when he arrived was to implement the Securities and Exchange Commission's order handling rules.

More recently, Nasdaq's plan for a consolidated limit-order book was announced in December 1997, soon followed by what many traders considered another bombshell a proposal to weld Durango, Colo.-based OptiMark Technologies' trading system to the Nasdaq platform.

No Trading Background.

On the face of it, Nasdaq is in the throes of a revolution. And in the middle is a man who's the first to admit he has no trading background no experience making markets, running a Nasdaq desk or executing orders.

If ever a job description guaranteed headaches, sleepless nights and early burnout, this sounds like the one.

So how come Berkeley seems to be having the time of his life? And who is he?

Born in 1944, Berkeley grew up in Charlotte, N.C., and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1966 with a degree in English. He added a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business in 1968, then served four years in the U.S. Air Force, discharged with the rank of captain. In 1972, he took a job as a research analyst at Alex. Brown.