Wall Street is bracing for the start of a new era next month, as Mary Schapiro takes charge of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and prepares to give the securities industry the tough love it needs to survive.

According to those who have worked with her or are familiar with her views, Schapiro has a breadth of experience and knowledge to address the intricacies of the financial crisis. They characterize her as an even-handed regulator who will balance her duty to protect investors without crushing the competitiveness of those who peddle Wall Street's wares.

The 53-year-old blonde is a native New Yorker who has a resume packed with bi-partisan credentials across several regulatory arenas. She has had leadership roles at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC), Futures Industry Association, NASD and the SEC under presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton, before serving on an advisory council for President George W. Bush. She is currently head of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, the largest non-governmental regulator for securities firms, which was formed last year through the consolidation of NASD and NYSE member regulations.

Schapiro also serves as a director on the boards of Duke Energy ( DUK) and Kraft Foods ( KFT), roles she will be forced to relinquish once she takes the reins of the SEC under President-elect Barack Obama in January.

Schapiro has outlined broad notions for regulatory reform in public statements over the past year, most of which echoes ideas espoused by other leading policy experts.

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