Blythe Masters, the ingeniously named hero of John Grisham’s latest–no wait, that’s her real name. Ms. Masters is no fictional creation, except insofar as people in democracies are free to invent themselves. Of this opportunity Blythe Masters has more than availed herself, joining the program that–as wealth goes–enables staggering personal transformation on a scale unmatched outside Hollywood: Blythe Masters joined Wall Street. JPMorgan, specifically, becoming a managing director by the time she was 28. This is called the fast track. Masters not only traveled it; she paved it. She thrived in a sector of banking that didn’t even exist when she first took her economics degree to the office–credit default swaps. Heard of them? If you’ve read anything about the financial crises of 2008 you have. But you can’t blame a tool for what people do with it, Masters has explained. Take nuclear energy: you can use it to power a city, or blow one up. Same goes with derivatives.
You know who’s in demand when somebody hacks a computer system? Other hackers. The most famous hacker of all is probably Kevin Mitnick. Once the most wanted computer criminal in the US, he’s now a highly compensated consultant helping companies protect their assets against the likes of, well, him. The lesson of Mitnick is probably just what Mark P. Wetjen had in mind when he recently asked Blythe Masters to join the advisory committee of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates futures trading. Sure as a creative genius of derivative instruments, Ms. Masters’ position in the banking avant-garde sometimes makes her the subject of articles with titles like “JPMorgan Executive May Escape Penalty.” And yes, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission accused Masters last year of “obfuscation” in a disturbing case that JPMorgan ultimately paid major penalties in. (Masters was cleared of wrongdoing.) But it’s absolutely clear that if you really want to regulate trading, you need the best information. And no one knows the perpetually new, ever-changing and largely unregulated landscape of derivatives and swaps like Blythe Masters does. Alas, she reportedly said no to Wetjen. Right now, as they say, she’s just got a lot on her plate–including selling the business she runs.