There was a time when it didn’t matter what faculty you went to or whether or not you had a elaborate MBA. In case you had been good and hungry, you possibly can have a profession on Wall Avenue — and even run an enormous agency.
Dave Komansky, the previous longtime CEO of Merrill Lynch, who epitomized that largely forgotten half Wall Avenue, died Monday of pure causes. He was 82.
What I’ll all the time bear in mind about Dave: his thick Bronx accent and the way he may relate to anybody — one thing that may’t be taught at enterprise faculty. Shoppers beloved him, individuals appreciated working for him. And Dave by no means completed faculty as a result of he didn’t must.
He knew how Wall Avenue labored and he may translate that information to assist individuals make investments as among the best brokers within the Merrill Lynch system. He carried that persona from the small workplace in Queens the place he bought his begin as a dealer trainee by means of to the Merrill government suites, finally changing into CEO in 1996.
Amid all this success, Komansky by no means forgot his roots, or the agency’s founding rules. Underneath Komansky, Merrill would turn into a big, diversified funding financial institution. Nevertheless it continued to be outlined by its “Thundering Herd” of monetary advisers — a agency largely centered on shelling out market recommendation to small buyers from brokerage workplaces in giant cities and small cities throughout America.
Merrill would additionally stay outlined by one other considered one of its traditions, one thing that dates again to days of Charlie Merrill. It’s the idea often known as “Mother Merrill” — a brokerage agency that really cared about its individuals.
Whereas different CEOs appeared to luxuriate in mass layoffs (and the surging inventory value that usually adopted) Merrill beneath Komansky thought of downsizing a final resort. In 1998, when financial institution mergers had been all the fashion, Dave refused to promote Merrill to JP Morgan as a result of he couldn’t abdomen seeing what he referred to as the “elevator people” getting fired as they smashed the 2 giant companies collectively.
These had been the typical women and men who Dave noticed commonly within the elevator — and who Dave thought of household.
“Dave knew the first names of top executives, brokers and janitors,” stated his longtime buddy Dick Grasso, the previous head of the New York Inventory Trade. “He cared about his family first, but his family wasn’t just blood relatives; it was also his family at Merrill Lynch.”
Dave labored at Merrill for 35 years. It by no means shocked me that only a few years after he left as CEO in 2003 following a nasty boardroom coup d’état, the agency imploded. In hindsight, the explanation was apparent: It began to worth danger and earnings over the individuals Komansky took the elevator with.
After all, Dave had his blind spots (as all of us do). Towards the top of his tenure as CEO, he trusted the mistaken individuals. His consideration to element had waned (associates would say due to a power again downside). Earnings at Merrill fell behind these at companies like Goldman Sachs.
New administration got here in and centered on being extra like Goldman versus embracing Charlie Merrill’s imaginative and prescient of “bringing Wall Street to Main Street.”
Merrill loved just a few years of souped-up buying and selling earnings because it embraced Goldmanesque buying and selling danger till it turned clear that danger additionally has its downsides. Like most of Wall Avenue, Merrill was on the verge of extinction in 2008 throughout the throes of the monetary disaster. It was saved due to a authorities bailout and since Financial institution of America couldn’t wait to get its palms on the brokerage crown jewel.
Right now, the risk-taking a part of Merrill is gone, however its “Thundering Herd” of brokers continues to thrive.
Once more, Dave had his blind spots, however nobody may ever query his honesty, integrity, his respect for shoppers and love of Merrill, notably these “elevator people” who’ve made the Thundering Herd considered one of Wall Avenue’s nice companies.