Win Smith, the scion of a Merrill Lynch founder, recently approached Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis with an offer to buy back the firm, the FT reports. He was politely rebuffed.
Smith left Merrill in 2000 after being passed over as CEO in favour of the man who later destroyed the firm, Stan O’Neal. Win then moved to Vermont, bought Sugarbush, and sidestepped Merrill’s collapse. And he’s been gloating about it on Bloomberg Radio ever since (while touting Sugarbush’s snowfall).
But now Win apparently wants back in!
Together with Mother Merrill veterans Dan Tully and Launny Steffens, Smith apparently flew down to Charlotte for an audience with the man who nearly sent his own firm to the bottom of the ocean by shackling it to the collapsing Merrill. The trio were presumably hoping that Ken Lewis had had just about enough of The Thundering Herd. Apparently he hadn’t.
But since it was always probably a bit unrealistic to assume that Lewis might sell Merrill outright for tens of billions less than he bought it for six months ago, we have a better idea for Win, Dan, and Launny:
Buy the firm’s name and trademark and start again.
As evidenced by today’s unveiling of the new Bank Of America Merrill Lynch logo, Ken Lewis is in the process of erasing all traces of the nightmare that cost his shareholders $50 billion and, worse, almost cost him his job. The iconic Merrill bull is gone, and the name soon will be.
Which means Win, Dan, and Launny might be able to snap it up for a few million!
And once they get it, of course, they can make a few phone calls and hire 100 of Merrill’s top producers, who will be only too happy to flee before Ken Lewis caps their pay and makes them wear little American flag pins on their lapels. And then, with no hideous balance sheet wreckage and years of embedded losses to drag them down, they’ll be off to the races again.
Disclosure: Henry Blodget worked for Merrill Lynch earlier this decade. He met Win and Launny a few times and thought they were nice guys. Henry has never met Ken Lewis, but he suspects Ken’s probably a nice guy, too. But he still thinks Ken should be fired.