Former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal and Other Devils

by Derek Loosvelt | October 06, 2010

Remember Stan "Most Definitely Not the Man" O'Neal, the former CEO of Merrill Lynch who is, at least, partly responsible for why Merrill now follows America (as in, Bank of America Merrill Lynch)?

Yeah, that Stan. Well, in a new book called All the Devils Are Here (a title nodding to Shakespeare) by Bethany McLean (author of The Smartest Guys in the Room; yes, it was a damn good book before becoming a damn good movie) and Joe Nocera, A New York Times writer, O'Neal and his former firm, Mother Merrill, play a significant role, and an excerpt of All the Devils appears in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

Not solely about Merrill, All the Devils focuses on the two decades leading up to the financial crisis, attempting to chronicle just what the hell happened to get us in this mess. However, the VF excerpt is largely about the "Thundering Herd" (aka Merrill), which McLean and Nocera describe as a flag-waving institution "where brokers stood at the ready to sell middle-class Americans the stocks and bonds they needed to put their kids through college and build their retirement nest eggs." The authors also write that Merrill had "developed, over the years, a unique culture; its executives tended to be Irish Catholics (many of them ex-Marines), for whom drinking at lunch was not a vice, and cronyism was not only tolerated but almost expected."

As for Stan O'Neal, who "joined the firm as a junk-bond trader in 1986," he was "proud, prickly, intolerant of dissent, and quick to take offense at perceived slights," and since he "had never worked as a stock broker," he "had no particular affection for the business that had long been Merrill’s heart and soul." (A heart and soul he helped to crush). "Most of all, O’Neal pushed Merrill to take more risks and bigger risks—Goldman Sachs-like risks. After all, wasn’t that how one made Goldman Sachs-like profits?"

In addition to having a bad case of Goldman-envy, McLean and Nocera point out that O'Neal "was the kind of man who liked to play golf by himself."

Filed Under: Finance


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