Trump nominates trading firm founder Viola as Army secretary

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 19, 2016 9:15 AM

By Doina Chiacu and John McCrank

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Vincent Viola, an Army veteran and founder of a high-speed trading firm, to be secretary of the Army, adding another figure from the business world without government experience to his Cabinet.

Viola is a West Point graduate who founded the highly profitable high-frequency trading firm Virtu Financial Inc in 2008, Trump's transition team said in a statement on Monday.

Viola is a former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange, where he began his financial services career, and is a leader in electronic trading. Along with Virtu CEO Douglas Cifu, he bought the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League in 2013.

In the Army, Viola trained as an Airborne Ranger infantry officer and served in the 101st Airborne Division, the transition team said.

"Whether it is his distinguished military service or highly impressive track record in the world of business, Vinnie has proved throughout his life that he knows how to be a leader and deliver major results in the face of any challenge," Trump was quoted as saying in a transition team statement.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, Viola helped found the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"A primary focus of my leadership will be ensuring that America’s soldiers have the ways and means to fight and win across the full spectrum of conflict, Viola said in the statement.

As Army secretary, Viola would oversee 473,000 active duty soldiers.

Trump met with Viola on Friday as the Republican president-elect considered candidates for top posts in his administration, which begins on Jan. 20. Cabinet positions yet to be filled include secretaries of agriculture and veterans affairs and the U.S. trade representative.

Viola, 60, whose net worth is $1.8 billion according to Forbes magazine, is the latest wealthy financier or businessman tapped to join Trump's administration.

Those nominees, with little or no experience in government, include Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, Goldman Sachs chief operating officer Gary Cohn for director of the National Economic Council, private equity firm owner Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary and Andrew Pudzer, CKE Restaurants Inc chief executive as labor secretary.

FROM WEST POINT TO HIGH-SPEED TRADING

Viola was a leading figure in the emergence of high-frequency trading, in which rapid-fire machines place thousands of very short-term bets, making markets and profiting on tiny price imbalances.

In 2014, Virtu Financial received a letter of inquiry from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as part of a wider investigation of such firms, which came amid heightened attention to such trading after the publication of author Michael Lewis' book "Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt."

The firm was never charged with anything and has always backed more regulation for trading and market making.

If Viola is confirmed by the Senate as secretary of the Army, his ownership stake in the Panthers would be placed in a trust, while Cifu would take over Viola’s role as chairman and governor of the team’s parent company, Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, the Panthers said in a statement. Cifu currently has the role of vice chairman and alternate governor of the club.

Viola was born to Italian immigrant parents in New York's Brooklyn borough, and was the first in his family to attend college. He left the Army after five years because his father suffered a massive heart, he told the West Point Center for Oral History, which he helped fund.

Friends in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn where Viola grew up pointed him to Wall Street after he failed to find work elsewhere. Viola stood out on entering the trading pits in 1982 as a "local" on the New York Mercantile Exchange, as many of the floor traders did not have a college education.

Viola has said the principles of West Point - duty, honor, country - are overwhelming and become ingrained.

"It's very hard to come here and not leave not having a selfless sense of what duty means, what honor is, and the importance of your country," Viola said in 2011 the Oral History interview.

(Additional reporting by Herb Lash in New York; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott and Andrea Ricci)