Earlier this week, the Twitverse was on fire with the news of Sallie Krawcheck, head of Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, was sacked by BofA CEO Brian Moynihan.
Technically, she was demoted. She would have answered to someone other than the CEO.
So, she chose to pack her little brown banker’s box and punch out. Some speculate that Moynihan canned Sallie to save his own rear end.
BofA has been beaten like rented mule of late. Krawcheck was handpicked by Moynihan’s predecessor, Ken Lewis, to run Merrill and he may have seen her as threat should the board want to replace him.
Maybe so. But I see it as just another mediocre manager firing another mediocre manager of a mediocre business.
Let’s be honest. Today’s big business, upper level managers are by no means exceptional or creative. These are guys (and..some girls) whi tested really well in school, follow the directions in the three ring binder to the letter, and who are awesome at kissing arse. Among their ranks, you won’t find a Steve Jobs or a Larry Ellison or a Howard Schultz…oh yeah…those guys started those companies. Well, Howard Schultz didn’t start Starbucks but he transformed it to what it is today. Those guys would have never made it past the first interview for the training program. Hell, they probably wouldn’t have gone to the first interview. No, the big, corporate jobs are reserved for the unremarkable. Sallie Krawcheck is no exception.
Her first big splash was rising to the top of the heap of what evolved into mutual fund peddler Alliance Bernstein. From there, it was on to Citi bouncing around from head of Smith Barney, a big brokerage firm that, like all big brokerage firms, aspired to be just like Merrill Lynch, to CFO of all of Citi, back to Smith Barney, then left shortly after the Lehman shit hit the fan in 2008. In 2009, she got to run the firm that her old firm wanted to emulate. Now she’s, once again, between engagements.
Was she an excellent manager? No one rises to the top of the game by being a complete idiot. But keep in mind, her tenure at Alliancebernstein was waist deep in the rising tide of the mid and late 90’s that lifted all boats. All managers looked like geniuses. At Citi, she was on deck as the company beefed up and eventually collapsed under it’s own weight. She built Smith Barney along the model of every other mediocre wirehouse brokerage where 10,000 plus brokers deliver mediocre advice to clients who are becoming increasingly pissed off because they’re not making any money and they’re being hit constantly with ridiculous, bank style account fees. When the wheels fell off of Citi, Smith Barney was pawned to Morgan Stanley because they needed to be even more huge and more mediocre. So hey! Maybe lightning would strike twice at Merrill Lynch: a big brokerage that’s owned by a big bank? How’d she do? Just ask all of the Smith Barney and Merrill brokers who aren’t even paid on a third of the assets they manage. I’m sure they’ll share honestly.
You could argue that what made Sallie Krawcheck special is that she wasn’t necessarily a great manager. She was probably average at best. But what set her apart is that she was a relatively youngish, woman who rose to the top of a middle aged man’s world. She reached the promised land on a trail blazed for her by the likes of Muriel Seibert and Alexandra Lebenthal. Oh…wait…again..their names were on the door. Never mind. Sorry ladies. But when heads roll, no one cares if you sit or stand.
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