When John Thain was ridiculed last January for spending one million dollars to redecorate the chief executives office at Merrill Lynch just months before the bank collapsed, he attempted to defend himself by explaining that his predecessor had left it in an ususable condition.
In an interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo Thain tried to explain the seemingly psychopathic spending spree.
“Well — his office was very different — than — the — the general décor of — Merrill’s offices,” Thain said. “It really would have been — very difficult — for — me to use it in the form that it was in.”
After that mysterious answer, we never heard from Thain on the office again. It left us scratching our heads at first. Some suspected that there was a subtle racism involved in Thain’s remarks. Others just thought it was a dodge. Our own Nick Carlson asked “doesn’t Thain make it sound like O’Neal had one of those bookshelves where you pull on the copy of The Prince and the whole thing revolves to open a secret chamber?”
Finally, we have an answer from Thain himself. During a talk to an audience at Wharton last week, Thain was asked a question about the office redecorating fiasco. A DealBreaker reader reported the answer:
“Since you brought it up, I’ll talk about my office,” Thain said. “I joined Merrill Lynch before we knew the world was ending. My office had a giant desk in the middle and was not configured to receive any clients or staff. There was no conference room because it had been converted into a private gym.”
This almost jibes with what we were told by a Merrill Lynch insider back in January. Although our source contended that it was very easy to have staff and clients in the room.
“O’Neal’s office was perfectly normal,” according to a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The furnishings in the 32nd floor office were described to Clusterstock as “retro-modern.” The desk was a wrap-around, U-shaped affair that allowed O’Neal to keep a computer to one side and have many people sit around and work at the desk alongside him. There was an attractive leather couch. A table had a glass top.
The small conference room that Thain converted into a personal dining room at a cost of $83,000 was used by O’Neal very differently. It had a television and a stationary exercise bicycle. O’Neal, like most executives at Merrill, tended to eat in the dining room on the 33rd floor.
The only unusual items in the office were some African art objects. Those were from O’Neal’s personal collection however. It is thought that O’Neal took those with him, so Thain would not have had to worry about operating in the presence of African art.
So now we know that what made Thain’s office “unusable” was that he felt he needed a private dining room/conference room and didn’t like the idea of receiving guests or staff unless surrounded by the trappings of an 18th century aristocrat.