Call It A Draw: As O'Neal is Shown the Door, Fascinating Portraits of a Ruthless Warrior Conquered and the Mess He Made
With Merrill Lynch Chairman and CEO Stan O'Neal valiantly trying to make a graceful exit after losing the confidence of his board of directors, that meant some financial journalists were in an unaccustomed role of working on Sunday.
Landon Thomas Jr. and Jenny Anderson in The New York Times showed it was time well-spent, offering up an unflattering, but compelling look at an often-brilliant but flawed leader done in by his own arrogance.
At times the piece reads more like a treatment for a melodrama than another sordid chapter in the subprime mortgage mess that left Merrill's portfolio $40 billion in collateralized debt obligations wilting on the vine.
Twice, he came close to leaving the firm and was notorious for his propensity to fall into a funk when things were not going his way. A golf fanatic — his handicap is nine and he belongs to four country clubs — he often plays alone, in addition to the usual rounds with clients and a circle of friends outside Merrill.
Over at The Wall Street Journal, Randall Smith wasn't cutting O'Neal any slack either. Seems O'Neal wasn't a big fan of collaboration.
Mr. O'Neal's aloof management style was on display at the firm's quarterly operations-committee meetings ... Instead of fostering freewheeling interchanges, the meetings were often staged and choreographed, with formal presentations to which Mr. O'Neal would ask questions but rarely entertain discussion....
Also visible at such meetings was Mr. O'Neal's open disdain for Bob McCann. The popular executive had left Merrill but returned in 2003, after an O'Neal purge had thinned the ranks at the top, and took over the firm's core army of 16,000 brokers. If Mr. McCann made an observation at a meeting, Mr. O'Neal would often barely acknowledge it...
Double ouch. If the truth hurts, then O'Neal is in need of a big bottle of Anacin pronto.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times got on the board with a story on the Web site yesterday, but decided to stick with a perfunctory news account devoid of nuance or detail that couldn't be learned anyplace else.
Which meant FT editors had to read the Times and Journal to figure out just how juicy this story really was.