Securities and Exchange Commission Historical Society
In Memoriam

The Society mourns the loss of William H. Donaldson, the 27th Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, serving from February 2003 to June 2005.

William H. Donaldson, a pivotal figure at the SEC, passed away on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, at the age of 93.

“William Donaldson was an extraordinary Chairman of the SEC. He was a gifted leader who brought a deep understanding of financial markets from his experience as a co-founder of Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette, as Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, and as the founding Dean of the Yale School of Management," said SEC Historical Society Trustee and former SEC Commissioner Annette L. Nazareth. "He was also a warm and generous person who appreciated and acknowledged the work of the SEC staff.”

“Bill led the SEC at a challenging time," said SEC Historical Society President-Elect Lori A. Richards and former Director of the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations. "He was demanding, respected and kind. Pressing the staff to better anticipate risks, "look over the hill and around the corner," he made risk assessment an integral and lasting part of the SEC’s operations.”

Peter Derby, a former member of the Society’s Board of Advisors who served as the managing executive for operations and management in the office of the chairman at the SEC from March 2003 until August 2005, said, “Chairman Donaldson’s entrepreneurial leadership, with honesty and integrity at its core, and his overarching wisdom were instrumental in addressing the challenges the SEC was experiencing at that critical time in its history.”

President George W. Bush named William H. Donaldson as his nominee for Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission on Dec. 10, 2002. Photo Credit Paul Morse

In a handwritten note, President George W. Bush shared his thoughts on Chairman Donaldson's leadership:

Courtesy of the Geroge W. Bush Presidential Library. View the note or read the Talking Points Memo on William H. Donaldson.

Chairman's Roundtable Commemorating the SEC’s 85th Anniversary and 20th of the SEC Historical Society, 2019. Bill Donaldson, Richard Breeden and Christopher Cox. Photo - Jay Clayton.

Watch the program pictured above which includes nine former SEC Chairs moderated by former Chairman Jay Clayton.

View photos, read historical papers and learn more about Chairman Donaldson's distinguished career and legacy.

The SEC Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to sharing, preserving, and advancing the knowledge of the history of financial regulation.


Mr. Donaldson assumed the helm of the SEC on the heels of numerous high-profile corporate scandals that left investor confidence shaken.

Under his leadership, the SEC focused on restoring investor confidence through targeted policy reforms including an enhanced focus on corporate governance and ethics, internal management reforms aimed at increasing the agency's ability to anticipate challenges in the securities and financial markets, and improved disclosure of financial information to better prepare investors to make sound investment decisions appropriate for themselves and their families.

The agency's response to the challenges facing the financial markets during Mr. Donaldson's tenure marked the agency's most historic era since its creation in 1934.

Mr. Donaldson arrived at the Commission with more than 45 years of experience working at the highest levels of business, government and academia.

He served as Chairman and CEO of the investment banking firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, which he co-founded; Chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange; Chairman, President and CEO of Aetna; and Chairman and CEO of Donaldson Enterprises, Inc.

Mr. Donaldson co-founded the Yale University School of Management, serving as the graduate school's first dean and professor of management studies.

His government service spans five presidential administrations and includes serving as Under Secretary of State to then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Counsel and Special Adviser to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.

Mr. Donaldson has also served on numerous corporate and non-profit boards and has been actively involved with many civic and philanthropic projects as a Trustee, Chairman and Director.

Mr. Donaldson was a Marine Corps Veteran, a graduate of Yale University, and Harvard University School of Business where he received an MBA with Distinction

He was a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and has received a number of honorary degrees.

Read the Washington Post Obituary.

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