Richard Breeden, one of the country’s most respected corporate governance experts, recently found himself in an unusual situation. In May his business judgment was questioned in a very public forum — the criminal trial of disgraced media baron Conrad Black. What made the situation significant had nothing to do with legal exposure. It was the possible damage to Breeden’s reputation.

A former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Breeden has leveraged his Mr. Clean persona to build two businesses. One outfit, Richard C. Breeden & Co., advises companies on governance issues. It’s this business that has vaulted Breeden into an elite group of experts who serve as independent monitors of troubled companies. (Breeden continues to work as a monitor at KPMG LLP and the former WorldCom Inc.) His newer business, Breeden Capital Management LLC, is an activist hedge fund that seeks to make money by investing in, and fixing, underperforming companies.