Jay Perry hasn't made it yet as chairman and chief executive of brokerage biggie Dean Witter Reynolds. But give the man time -- he's only been with the firm about three weeks. And at the moment, the top job is taken by another fellow -- Andrew Melton Jr. -- who's only 60 and has no thoughts of retirement.

Perry, a mile-a-minute talker who swings one of Wall Street's most innovative investment bats, once again is back in the mainstream after two setbacks. And Dean Witter -- plus some of its competition -- may never be the same again.

The addition of Perry at Witter, says one seasoned observer, "is touch of Tabasco in a rich, but bland investment stew."

Melton probably best sums up the flamboyant Perry: "He's the only man in the world who can stand behind you in a revolving door and come out ahead of you."

One Wall Streeter described Perry as "the best thing that's happened to stodgy Dean Witter in years."

I mentioned that remark to Perry.

"Wrong," he shot back. "I'm the first, second and third best thing that's happened to Witter in years."

Fast-stepping Perry, a 45-year-old dynamo, is virtually unknown to the public.

But in the hotly competitive and gossipy world of Wall Street, just about everyone knows of him. And for good reason. Perry has personally handled four of the five largest block trades ever executed on the Big Board.

You either like and respect Perry -- and many do for his leadership abilities, his knack of attracting top talent and his deep loyalties to people he trusts -- or you don't like him, as many don't for his abrasiveness and his giant-sized ego. There's no middle ground.

Born in Hot Springs, Ark., where his father ran a small ladies apparel shop, Perry started his Wall Street career in 1958 as a $225-a-month trainee at Merrill Lynch. But it was at Salomon Brothers, the big block-trading house, that Perry made his name. Between 1968 and 1975, he ran the block-trading department. And under his supervision, it became one of the best in the country. As Salomon grew, so did Perry's ego. "I figured any day he was going to ask Billy Salomon (the head of the firm) to change the name to Perry & Co.," says one Salomon block trader.

But then in 1975, an internal struggle developed. Perry lost and as a result spent the next three years running Salomon's Dallas office. He left the firm in 1978.

Meanwhile, as a Solomon partner sharing in the firm's profits, he made millions. His personal net worth -- from his Salomon interests, plus his gas and oil real estate investments -- currently stands at about $10 million. That's a far cry from the $15 a week he earned in his very first job as a part-time shoe clerk.

Perry joined Blyth Eastman Dillon as executive vice president of institutional equities. And he soon built the firm into one of the Street's most powerful trading houses. In large measure, it was his ability to attract top talent that helped bring it about. Late in 1979, though, he left Blyth (though he continued as a consultant) after the firm merged with Paine Webber Mitchell Hutchins.

The Blyth merger was a bitter blow to Perry's hopes of building what some said was a new "Perry empire."

But he now is back at Witter, and sources say he clearly has his eyes on the top job.

In the three weeks he has been with the firm as a $155,000-a-year executive vice president in charge of equity transactions and international activities, Perry has gone on an acquisition binge. And that's always sticky business.

He's enticed 29 professionals (such as traders, research salesmen and analysts) from such leading Street firms as Morgan Stanley, First Boston, Merrill Lynch and Paine Webber. And more are on the way, Perry tells me. m

"I've added about $3 million a year to Dean Witter's budget and I'm paying some people even more than I make," he says.

In building a team of the Street's leading entrepreneurial talent, Perry intends taking the areas closest to his heart -- research, trading and institutional sales -- and hoisting them into first or second place in the industry.

That's tall order; competition is intense and Dean Witter, by Perry's own calculations, is No. 7 in research, 13th in trading profitability and volume, and maybe 12th or 13th in institutional sales. A tall order, yes, but not for Perry, so he tells me.

"We'll be No. 1 or 2 in six months. No, make that a year," he says confidently.

Although Perry's investment ties are closest to the institutional fraternity, his activities at Witter (which has 925,000 active retail accounts) could mean a better shake for the little investor.

A director and member of Dean Witter's executive committee, Perry says one of his major objectives will be to provide better service to the retail client, who, he says, "is treated as a second-class citizen at most brokerage firms."

Says Perry: "The guy's not getting what he's paying for (in terms of execution and research). But since he's shelling out more than the institutional investory, why shouldn't he get the same quality of service? The answer is he should. Why should Morgan Guaranty Trust or Dreyfus (the big fund) get the first call from a brokerage house on an important revelation?"

Of course, it's senseless to think that such biggies won't continue to get the best information first. But Perry tells me he'll try to narrow that information gap by ensuring that all important development go on a display system throughout the Witter branches so everybody get the same information at the same time.

In pitching for more retail customers, Dean Witter, Perry says, has added six senior retail traders, expanded the number of unlisted stocks it is now making markets in (from 480 to a target of 600 by year end) and is paying institutional analysts to produce ideas specifically geared for retail clients.

"We're trying to take the little guy out of tourist and fly him first-class," says Perry.

"Are stocks currently a good bet for the little guy?" I asked Perry.

"I hate to sound like Merrill Lynch, but you've got to be bullish on America," he says. "I'm upbeat. I think there's a lot of money to be made whether you use stocks or options. There's a huge amount of uninvested cash sitting out there and based on yields and price-earnings multiples, stocks are dirt cheap."

Over the short run, though, Perry thinks the market is "overbrought" based on Witter's technical indicators and the view that investors will respond negatively to the onslaught of bad earnings reports. Accordingly, he thinks the Dow Jones Industrials, around 870 at press time, could experience a temporary drop to the 780-800 level.

Certain stocks, though, as we all know, have the potential to outperform the market, and Perry and Dean Witter's research department pick its 20 best bets for the next six to 12 months. Perry thinks these stocks -- which appear elsewhere in this column -- have the potential to show at least a 20 percent gain over the next six to 12 months.

Whether Perry makes it to the No. 1 job at Witter is anybody's guess. But you can't ever sell short the man's intense drive to get there.

Characterizing himself as "an entrepreneur in an era of non-entrepreneurs, organization men and civil service mentality," Perry tells me: "When I came to New York, I had one suit, no overcoat and it was snowing. I also had a Southern accent. My challenge was to be No. 1, the best. And that's what I want and what I'll be."

Dean Witter's best bets: Bankers Trust 49 3/4 So. Calif. Edison 26 1/4 Jack Eckerd 27 Heublein 29 3/4 McDonalds 48 3/4 Bristol Myers 39 1/2 SmithKline 58 1/2 Archer Daniels 34 1/4 K-Mart 22 J. C. Penney 26 3/4 Petrie Stores 31 1/4 Atlantic Richfield 98 Engelhard Minerals 34 1/4 Exxon 67 3/4 Mapco 42 1/2 Data General 64 Minn. Mining & Mfg. 54 1/4 Reyonlds & Reynolds 28 Xerox 56