Today John Thain and I (and a large number of my Merrill Lynch colleagues) got laid off, fired, riffed, whatever you want to call it. Footnote: at Bank of America, coworkers are known as associates, not colleagues. Same as WalMart.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that there was any connection between my fate and that of Mr. Thain. But it was an interesting coincidence. I'm sure that he'll do well in his future endeavors. I will too.
I entered the financial services industry in the mid 1980s with a manager trainee job at EF Hutton. I worked as a private client broker to learn the business while preparing for a job in sales management. Hutton was truly a great firm back then. I was proud to be in the business, and proud of my firm. (another footnote: at B of A, it's "the company", not "the firm").
I was young, and in awe of the idea of being a stockbroker. The Dow was around 1300, and the NYSE had recently recorded its first 100 million share day.
But even as a rookie, one thing that I clearly noticed was the grudging respect that my coworkers had for Merrill Lynch. They would tell me how much better we were compared to firms like Paine Webber, or Kidder Peabody, or Smith Barney. But they obviously envied ML. Even the Merrill softball team dominated the local broker league. And as I came to understand the industry, I could see that Merrill brokers were head and shoulders above everyone else in metrics like average production per broker.
I remember well a speech given by a former boss at my first (pre-Hutton) employer. He said "if you don't think that you're working for the best company in the industry, you should quit your job and go to work for the best company." Merrill Lynch was the best in the industry. So when I had an opportunity to take a position at Merrill in 1987, I was quick to move.
I was truly very fortunate to have the chance to spend 21 years at Merrill. It was a great job. I worked with some outstanding people. I grew personally and professionally. My life was truly much richer for the experience-- in fact, it defined my life. I enjoyed some great experiences, and I had an opportunity to do some wonderful things.
But things changed. The economy, the stock market, the world. The firm that was the best in the industry was destroyed by a combination of bad judgment, bad management, and bad luck. The number one job of the CEO of any firm is to avoid blowing up the firm. Merrill blew up. Fortunately, the BankAmerica deal came along (although perhaps not so fortunately for the BofA shareholders).
Lots of good people lost their jobs today. It's a sad time. It feels like a death in the family. But it's not the sudden, tragic kind of death. This one feels like the death of a long-suffering relative; we've long ago reconciled ourselves to the ultimate outcome, and when it comes it's seen as a blessing.
How sad that on my last day I listened to some buffoon on CNBC make toilet jokes about this once-proud firm.
This is a good thing in my life. I'm looking forward to moving on. I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family. I'm looking forward to teaching my 15 year-old son to drive. Next time you see me, I'm hoping that I'll be thinner and healthier. Maybe even the gray hair will be a bit darker. My golf game will be better.
Last week on MLK day, I was driving and heard on the radio a speech from Dr. King entitled "The Drum Major Instinct". In one part, Dr. King imagines his legacy: "I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind."
I have often thought, as I've charged almost blindly down the path of my Merrill Lynch career, about my own legacy. Will my kids say "Dad made a lot of money, but we didn't get to spend much time with him?" Will people in the community say "He was always too busy to get involved?" Will I reach the end of my life and regret that I didn't take time to learn another language, or volunteer at a shelter, or travel to Africa, or spend more time with my parents? Now I've got the chance.
To all of my friends, best of luck. The current dark days will pass. My life is richer for having known you, and I hope that you'll keep in touch.