Charlie Gasparino is an old school kind of guy. He picks up the phone to chase down stories. He keeps in shape with wind sprints and pounding the speed bag. He types with two fingers and celebrates scoops by eating steaks with his hands. He describes public company CEOs looking "like the kind of guy[s] you'd beat the hell out of," and he has zero qualms about calling people who question his reporting "friggen jerk[s]" and "dope[s]," in addition to telling them to fetch his dry cleaning. In short, he comes from another era, when men were men and women were referred to as broads. He has little time for sensitivity or a workplace that frowns upon pinching secretaries on the ass and so it should probably come as little surprise that a BofA Merrill exec's new way of doing things at the once-vaunted brokerage does not sit right with CG.
The brainchild of this weird reformation is a man named John Thiel, a former financial adviser who runs Merrill’s Lynch’s brokerage unit. Unlike other past brokerage chiefs, including the flamboyant John “Launny” Steffens, or the charismatic Sallie Krawcheck, or even Robert McCann who is the head of the UBS brokerage, Thiel has maintained a low profile, shunning most interviews with reporters, and rarely appearing on business television (he declined repeated attempts to be interviewed by FOX Business). But where Thiel has been less bashful is in the area of changing the once macho culture at Merrill, particularly during meetings with his biggest producers, into something resembling a New Age spiritual retreat. Brokers say it is starting to cause fed-up brokers to leave the firm for competitors like Morgan Stanley, now the largest brokerage firm with more than 16,000 financial advisers compared with about 15,000 at Merrill, according to market research firm Aite Group. According to brokers interviewed by FOX Business, Thiel has served wheatgrass and cucumber juice during meetings when just wine and beer would have done in the old days. He has encouraged brokers to take naps during the trading day, these people say. And speaks in the language of exotic spirituality, rather than finance, asking at one conference for brokers to find their “noble purpose.”
Appearing at one Merrill brokerage meeting hosted by Thiel was Davidji, a self-described “internationally recognized meditation expert” who studied at the Chopra Institute. According to Davidji’s website, he began a “new journey into wholeness…after a 20-year career in business, finance and mergers and acquisitions.” A Merrill Lynch spokesman denied that Thiel’s so-called wellness initiative, as it is known inside the firm, is backfiring. He says after some attrition of brokers, the firm is now making new hires. As for the wellness initiative, he said “As our advisor force ages, they want to take care of their health,” and that the bongo playing was part of a charitable event to donate percussion instruments to inner-city schools in Miami. As for Davidji, the spokesman said he “is the guy the advisors asked for specifically. (Davidji didn’t return requests for comment.)
Take one step closer and he'll shove that wheatgrass where the sun don't shine.