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Well, it’s official: After several days of news stories and reports that Merrill Lynch CEO and Chairman Stan O’Neal was out of a job, the company issued a statement today that said he was “retiring.” O’Neal came under fire after the company reported a $2.24 billion loss, apparently the biggest in the company’s 93 year history, and angered some board members for making merger overtures with Wachovia without consulting them first.
After days of speculation about who would serve as O’Neal’s replacement—BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink, NYSE Euronext CEO John Thain, and Merrill insiders all surfaced as candidates—the company named board member Alberto Cribiore interim non-executive chairman. The two co-presidents, Ahmass Fakahany and Gregory Fleming, will continue in their jobs.
I thought it was interesting that they named Cribiore interim non-executive chairman—for the time being, at least, Mother Merrill has no CEO, a rare transitional set-up, as interim CEOs are often named. That may mean there’s no frontrunner candidate in-house, or that succession planning was not as far along as it should have been given O’Neal’s five year reign. It could also signal a problem with the co-president set-up—who steps up when there’s no obvious #2? But it could also mean a careful, measured reaction to finding the best candidate—Cribiore will lead the search committee, and therefore is clear his job is temporary.
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