John Thain wasted no time calling on his friends during his first week on the job as the head of Merrill Lynch. The former NYSE Euronext CEO, Thain was appointed CEO and chairman of Merrill Lynch on Nov. 14 to replace Stan O’Neal. On Monday Merrill announced that Thain had recruited Nelson Chai, executive vice president and chief financial officer (CFO) of NYSE Euronext, to be Merill’s executive vice president and CFO. (Thain officially started in his new job on December 1, according to the Merrill release.)
Chai succeeds Jeffrey Edwards, a veteran of Merrill, where he has worked since 1987. Edwards had been Merrill’s CFO since 2005 and before that he was the head of the investment banking division. According to the release, Edwards will be appointed a new operating role at the firm shortly.
Chai, 42, joined NYSE Euronext in 2006. Prior to that, between 2000 and 2005, he was CFO of Archipelago Holdings. “Nelson was a key advisor to me and the board of directors at NYSE. He played critical roles in the Euronext and Archipelago mergers,” Thain said in the release.
Expect more management changes. Thain told the Financial Times in an interview last week that he plans to overhaul senior management at Merrill to make it look more like Goldman Sachs. Thain got the majority of his senior level management experience at Goldman Sachs between 1995 and 2003. He told the FT that a lack of cooperation between top management at Merrill may have contributed to its mortgage writedown trouble in the fourth quarter: The firm recorded the worst loss in it’s 93-year history. In addition Thain told the FT that the “risk management process was found wanting and needs to be looked at.”
According to a poll on our website, 56 percent of the 251 respondents said John Thain was the right choice for Merrill. Indeed, some reps are very optimistic. One top Merrill advisor we spoke to says Thain is not only a no-nonsense, smart guy, who has been around the block, but he also knows how to run an investment banking and brokerage business because he’s done it before, at Goldman. This rep says, at Goldman, Thain advanced at a young age (Thain is 52), got great training and also got to see how a lot of really powerful people operate, like Henry Paulson (former CEO of Goldman). “I think that bringing somebody in like this will allow him to clear the decks a little bit. It eliminates a lot of the infighting and the politics because he doesn’t really care; he doesn’t know anybody, essentially,” the advisor says. What’s more, he bets Thain is the type of guy who can probably attract the talented people that O’Neal eliminated such as Jeffrey Peek, James Gorman and Winthrop Smith, to name a few.