In First Media Interview, McCann Says Resignation Was At A "Logical Time"

Merrill Lynch has been on a wild roller coaster ride since Bank of America stepped in to save the franchise on September 15 with an all-stock offer worth $50 billion.

Merrill Lynch has been on a wild roller coaster ride since Bank of America stepped in to save the franchise on September 15 with an all-stock offer worth $50 billion.

Bank of America closed its purchase of Merrill on January 1. Nonetheless, for many Merrill brokers, the magnitude of change didn't sink in until January 6, the day that the President of Merrill's Global Wealth Management unit, Robert J. McCann, departed the firm.

Since then, both Merrill and McCann—a fixture at the firm for nearly three decades—have stayed mum about the circumstances leading up their parting ways. In his first interview since leaving Merrill Lynch, McCann says he can't offer specifics about his resignation, but he did allow that he maintains good feelings for both Merrill Lynch and the timing of his departure: "I worked at Merrill Lynch for 26-plus years," including the last five years as president of Merrill Lynch Private Global Wealth, he says. "I felt the closing of the Bank of America/ Merrill Lynch deal was a logical time for me to step aside, take some time off and consider the next chapter in my career. I am proud of my career at Merrill Lynch and have good feelings about the company and my time there."

At the time of his departure, analysts said that the timing was surprising because he would have played a pivotal role in maintaining a sense of normalcy at the firm during the integration phase of the deal.

McCann was called on to play a calming-the-rank-and-file role when Merrill hired him back from Axa Financial in August of 2003, only five months after he had departed Merrill to work at the insurance giant. Merrill's then-CEO Stanley O'Neal called on him in the weeks following the abrupt departures of Thomas H. Patrick, executive vice chairman, and Arshad Zakaria, head of investment banking. (The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that McCann was such a Merrill man that he accepted O'Neal's offer to return without even discussing what his compensation would be. It wasn't until his first day back when he went to human resources to fill out paper work that he learned of his new pay package, the WSJ reported at the time.)

After McCann's January 6 departure, brokers speculated that McCann may have left with a bitter taste in his mouth because of potential differences with Merrill CEO John Thain. Since then, of course, Thain, 53, departed the firm himself on January 22 after higher-than-expected Merrill losses, news of extravagant office redecorating and the paying out of bonuses to Merrill executives just before closing of the deal. [On Sunday (February 8), the New York Times ran an interesting round-up story on the acquisition—"For Bank Of America, Love Was Blind—implying that the deal may not work out. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating the deal. For more, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/business/08split.html]
Merrill has also suffered turmoil in its FA ranks, including the notable departure of 100 brokers who went to Wall Street rival UBS. Merrill's Global Wealth Management Chief Dan Sontag has acknowledged the turnover in a recent company wide conference call in which many Merrill FAs questioned him bluntly. See Registered Rep.'s story detailing the call here.

McCann declined to comment on any of these issues, but says that he is happy to be outside the fray. "I am enjoying the time off," he says. "I do intend to work again, but have given very little thought to the kind of challenge that would interest me."

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