Several weeks ago we were in the famed Upper East Side watering hole Elaine’s having drinks with a broker who had spent his entire working life at Merrill Lynch. When we mentioned the coming merger with Bank of America, he almost teared up.
“The day they take MER off the ticker, they’ll tear out a piece of my heart,” he told us.
Well, today Merrill moved a step closer to the ash heap of history when shareholders at Bank of America and Merrill approved the merger. According to Dow Jones, the final shareholder meeting at Merrill today became a pretty emotional event.
From Dow Jones:
But while the formal proceedings were brief, Thain carved out ample time for angry and even tearful Merrill alumni to address the gathering. Having arrived at Merrill a little more than a year ago, Thain struck a decidedly sympathetic and patient tone as sad and angry Merrill veterans took turns eulogizing the firm’s story, and assigning blame for its demise.
Thain stood by stoically as speakers trashed the name of Stanley O’Neal, his predecessor, under whom the firm made huge bets on residential subprime mortgages – a move that brought Merrill to its knees once the housing market went bust. Merrill’s board ousted O’Neal 14 months ago, and replaced him with Thain, the reserved and brainy Wall Street executive who had previously headed the New York Stock Exchange, and before that worked at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)
Thain went so far as to assertively shush Evelyn Davis – a Wall Street gadfly who often speaks at shareholder meetings – when she began to interrupt the meeting’s featured address.
“Now Evelyn,” Thain said, “you have to give other people time” to speak.
Winthrop Smith Jr., the son of one of the founding partners of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, who worked at Merrill for 28 years, spoke of Merrill’s culture and employees’ pride. “Merrill was a brand and we were proud to wear it on our hearts and our ties,” he said.
Smith eventually left the firm in 2001 when it was clear O’Neal was going to take over as CEO. “I could no longer look myself in the mirror” if I stayed, he said. Referring to the exodus of long-time executives at Merrill when O’Neal took over, Smith said, “Shame on the board of directors for never asking why we left.”