Susan Wolburgh Jenah is retiring as head of Canada's brokerage industry regulator, saying she wants to tackle new goals after spending eight years as a market regulator during one of the most volatile periods in recent stock market history.
Ms. Wolburgh Jenah announced Wednesday she will retire as chief executive officer of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada effective Oct. 31. A search committee has been formed to find her successor, IIROC said.
While Ms. Wolburgh Jenah is retiring from IIROC, she said she does not intend to retire from work for good and will spend the coming months pondering what she would like to do next. She said she is not ruling out taking another full-time job.
"I think anyone who knows me knows I'm not the type to sit at home and have lunch – it's not in my DNA," she said in an interview. "At this point I'm not ruling anything out. I want to take some time to explore what's possible and what would really turn my crank at this point in my life. I'm sure there are lots of exciting opportunities and things I could do that I never would even be aware of, so part of this next stage will just be the fun of exploring all that."
She said the timing was right for her to leave IIROC, and that she had done what she had come there to do.
"Everybody has to go at some point. It felt good," she said. "There have been lots of developments that we dealt with over the years. It's been exciting, very rewarding, never dull, pretty relentless. And after almost eight years at the helm, I think that's a good time to move on. The organization's in good shape. We're in a very good place where we are right now, so I felt like this is a good time."
Ms. Wolburgh Jenah joined IIROC's predecessor organization, the Investment Dealers Association of Canada, in 2007 to help oversee the creation of IIROC in 2008 through the merger of the IDA with Market Regulation Services, which oversaw stock market trading. She previously worked for 23 years at the Ontario Securities Commission, including as vice-chairman of the OSC from 2004 to 2007.
Her early years as CEO at IIROC coincided with the financial crisis. In the summer of 2007, just as Ms. Wolburgh Jenah was joining IIROC, the market for non-bank asset-backed commercial paper seized up in Canada. During the recession following the 2008 financial crisis, IIROC was regulating a brokerage industry struggling for survival while also contending with market trading issues such as fallout from the "flash crash" market meltdown in 2010.
"These weren't easy times," she said. "It will be almost eight years, but they've been eight years where a lot has happened in the industry between the financial crisis and the impact of that on the firms. It's not been easy."
Ian Russell, chief executive officer of the Investment Industry Association of Canada, which is an industry association for brokerage firms, said Ms. Wolburgh Jenah deserves wider recognition for her leadership during both the ABCP market collapse and the financial crisis in 2008.
"There was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of stress and strain, and IIROC laid out some very reassuring messages that were very supportive of its members," he said. "During times of stress, I recall Susan showing great leadership."
Recent years have been an especially difficult period for a lot of the smaller firms, and IIROC has faced criticism from some in the brokerage sector about the weight – and cost – of coping with growing regulation in the industry. Ms. Wolburgh Jenah said the concerns are understandable, but the public doesn't see the help IIROC staff have given to struggling firms.
"I also see the e-mails that come in that say, 'Thank you for the period of difficulty where staff have been really helpful in helping our firm really turn the corner.' .... There is another side to that," she said.
She said one of her biggest challenges as CEO has been to stay abreast of the rapid pace of change in securities markets, where regulating trading requires keeping up with a constant stream of new trends and innovations in securities markets.
"There's been so much change in the marketplace over this period of time and so much need for regulators to keep pace with those changes and really understand the impact," she said.
Mr. Russell said Ms. Wolburgh Jenah presided over the modernization of IIROC since its 2007 merger with Market Regulation Services, which included hiring many top quality people in the regulatory community.
"She took advantage of the merger restructuring to build a modern and accountable corporate structure for the new entity IIROC," he said. "She really brought the self-regulatory structure into the modern age. I give her a lot of credit for that."
Ms.Wolburgh Jenah said her departure from IIROC is not connected to a controversy that emerged last year when the regulator said a staff member had lost a mobile device that contained unencrypted financial data on 52,000 brokerage industry clients in Canada. The loss occurred in February, 2013, and IIROC faced criticism for not revealing the breach until April.
The Canadian Securities Administrators, the umbrella group for all provincial securities commissions, completed a review of the breach by quietly reporting that it will monitor the implementation of IIROC's new action plan on information security.
"We had policies and procedures, but we've obviously doubled down in terms of training our staff," Ms. Wolburgh Jenah said. "We've been doing a lot of work to ensure that where we are in terms of information security is where we need to be."