How a CEO Pushed a Financial Company to the Brink of Collapse

Merrill Lynch was one of the most prosperous financial institutions.

It was dubbed “Mother Merrill” because of its banking culture of respect for both customers and employees.

In 2001, Stanley O’Neal joined the company. He was the grandson of a freed slave and a Harvard graduate who had worked for General Motors before starting on Wall Street with no experience in security brokerage.

O’Neal was hired by the company in 1986, and he ran Merrill’s largest security brokerage department until the late 1990s, leading to the ouster of thousands, before becoming CEO in 2001. He violated the organizational banking culture with traditional management, provoking the wrath of the brand’s customers and employees.

With the wrong investments, particularly the merger with Wachovia, he caused Merrill Lynch to lose over $8 billion and left the company in utter disgrace.

Modern banking has avoided these blunders by hiring young, entrepreneurial executives.

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