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September 30, 2003

The Bell of Change: It was once inconceivable. Now is it an ordinary day on the floor.

By John A. Byrne

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  • The Bell of Change: It was once inconceivable. Now is it an ordinary day on the floor.

The distinguished gentleman ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange might have been mistaken for another self-important celebrity. It was no big deal for the noisy traders, wrapping up after a busy day on the floor below.

Really, sightings of the rich and famous on the Big Board are as frequent as the latest Hillary Clinton hairdo.

Yet, a generation or so ago, the ringing of the closing bell by someone like our gentleman on this recent eventful day - a successful African-American - would have raised more than a few eyebrows.

But times - and the political climate - have changed.

So when Harold E. Doley, Jr. on a September day rang the closing bell in the NYSE, it was another affirmation of how far - and how fast - a previously denigrated group has risen to once unimaginable positions of power and influence on Wall Street.

"That was the African-American fellow, right?" shrugged a veteran NYSE floor clerk, Charles King, to Traders Magazine. "Nice guy but we don't pay much attention to that stuff. Famous people ring it all the time."

The Doley bell ringing celebrated Doley's three decades as a member of the Big Board. And it was a big deal.

Doley, a blunt-spoken former $2 floor broker who now runs his own investment banking firm in New Orleans, once famously said: "When I first started at the exchange in 1968, I was amazed that even the janitors were white." These days, he says, the stock exchange is beginning to look more like the rest of America.

Two-Dollar Broker

Doley's journey to the pinnacle of the trading game took off in 1973 when he paid $90,000 to become the first black individual member of the NYSE. Two years later, he started Doley Securities - executing stock orders as an independent floor broker for other NYSE members and firms. He has never looked back. He was following the same road travelled earlier by Joseph L. Searles III, a former aide to New York City Mayor John Lindsay. In 1970, Searles caused a minor tempest in some circles when he became the first African-American to join the Big Board.

While not exactly assigned to a seat in the back of the bus, he was nonetheless required to sit by himself whenever he was eating in the venerable NYSE dining room.

Such unacceptable customs are rightly condemned by fair-minded trading pros today.

Indeed, Doley is no longer a rare example of an African-American taking a leadershop role on Wall Street. There is E. Stanley O'Neal who, as chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch, has made some hard and fast decisions. There is Kenneth Chenault, the president of American Express. There are countless other African-Americans in high places.