We’ve been told that the departures of Merrill Lynch big shots Bob McCann and Greg Fleming had very little to do with Bank of America and far more to do with the dysfunctional culture at Merrill and anger at John Thain in particular. In today’s column in the Daily Beat, Gasparino confirms that storyline.
After describing the merger of Bank of American and Merrill as a “slow motion trainwreck,” Gasparino writes:
And while McCann and Fleming didn’t like each other very much—they were rivals for the CEO job—they had recently found common ground in their dislike for Thain; one person close to Fleming said he recently had a screaming match with Thain. People close to both men, who declined to comment for this article, were quick to point out that the two left Merrill not because they didn’t like Bank of America’s management, but specifically because they couldn’t get along with their boss.
Others are now thinking about leaving Merrill. Of course Wall Street’s problems mean there are fewer jobs at the competition, but people who worked for McCann and Fleming are in the sweet spot of Wall Street’s emerging business model of providing wealth-management and financial advice to small investors and large companies. Contrary to popular belief, it was not Thain, but Fleming and his team of bankers who initially saw the beauty of the BofA/Merrill deal—combining the largest bank with the largest brokerage firm and creating a wealth-management colossus.
After some prodding, Thain ultimately agreed to approve the Bank of America deal, blowing off a possible partnership with Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs, something that he deserves some credit for making happen. But deals of this magnitude aren’t just made on paper—they are done by working with people, by creating a sense of partnership, and promise for the future. In that sense, the Bank of America-Merrill deal is far from over. In fact, based on recent events, it may never be completed.