Is There Something Happening At Merrill Lynch?Also, An English Magazine Finally Goes There

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You knew it was going to happen at some point. But now one publication has gone with it—the racially provocative headline that was screaming to be written but that no-one wanted to touch. Until now.
"O’Neal gets Merrill Lynched," the headline on England's Management Today reads this morning.
And just in case that was too subtle, Management Today says it that feels sorry for Stan O'Neal "particularly since O’Neal is one of the few African-Americans running big US companies."
"This obviously doesn’t give him any more right to hold onto his job, but it still seems a shame that the world of high finance – largely a white male preserve already – is about to get a little more homogenized," Management today adds.
If you want a slightly less salacious—if much more informative—take on the story of how Stan O'Neal ended up discovering that he had so few friends at the take, we suggest sticking to the more traditional sources. We know that's sadly boring and we apologize. Both use the word "mess" to describe the situation at Merrill.
The New York Times seems to have backed-off a bit from it's "scoop" from last week about that nonsense Wachovia merger. Don't get us wrong—that conversation between the top guy at Merrill and the top guy at Wachovia probably happened, and probably annoyed brokers at Merrill—but from the start it sounded like an ex-post facto rationale. It read too neatly: a clean story with a familiar storyline—rogue CEO—to explain the sudden turn against O'Neal in a way that totally cleared the company's board and didn't focus too much attention on recent losses. It was also a story that no-one else had, and obviously was leaked to the Times reporters by someone trying to leak it. (As Charlie Gasparino pointed out this morning, a lot of speculation is that "someone" in this case was king of the Merrill brokers, Bob McCann). In any case, the story was spinning like a top.
Today the Times adopts a more likely line: O'Neal had ticked off the thundering stampede of Merrill's brokers. "His fall is also a reminder of how dangerous it is to tinker with a firm's culture. Having declared the idea of a nurturing Mother Merrill passé, O'Neal has discovered how angry and powerful a spurned mother can be," Jenny Anderson and Landon Thomas writes.
Bloomberg takes as similar line, although you have to read it like you most Bloomberg stories—skip to the third paragraph to get the real lede. "To his predecessors, many of whom resented his penchant for getting rid of dozens of Merrill loyalists, the losses are a painful reminder of how much has changed at the brokerage they used to call 'Mother Merrill,'" Bloomberg's Bradley Keoun writes. (PS: It's not the reporters fault they bury the ledes. It's just that someone at the top has apparently decided that people need to be reminded each and every time all of what are now background deals to this story.)
The best line of the Bloomberg story comes from always entertaining Pun Ziegel analyst Richard Bove who calls Merrill "a snake pit with political infighting."
The Wall Street Journal broke out the big fonts today for their story, so it would be cruel to neglect Randall Smith's story. The Journal takes a different—and slightly more interesting—line: the cost of Goldman Sachs anxiety.
"Merrill Chief Executive Stan O'Neal would grill his executives about why, for instance, Goldman was showing faster growth in bond-trading profits. Subordinates would scurry to analyze the Goldman earnings to get answers to Mr. O'Neal. 'It got to the point where you didn't want to be in the office' on Goldman earnings days, one former Merrill executive recalls," Smith writes.
O’Neal gets Merrill Lynched [Management Today]
O'Neal Ouster Makes Mess of Maternal Merrill Lynch [Bloomberg]
At Merrill, the rise of E. Stanley O'Neal ends with a messy undoing [New York Times via International Herald Tribune]
O'Neal Out as Merrill Reels From Loss [Wall Street Journal]

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