The still unfolding mortgage-related credit crisis has claimed its biggest corporate casualty so far: Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal.
The announcement Tuesday that O’Neal is retiring immediately came days after the world’s largest brokerage posted a $2.24 billion quarterly loss, its biggest since being founded 93 years ago.
It was not known how much O’Neal would receive as an exit package, though there have been some reports it would be nearly $200 million. He was paid roughly $48 million salary in 2006, and had $160 million in stock and retirement benefits, according to James Reda, founder of compensation consultancy James F. Reda & Associates.
O’Neal is the descendant of a former slave, and grew up in poverty in Alabama before rising to become one of the highest-ranking African-Americans on Wall Street. He worked his way through a Harvard business degree by working at General Motors Corp., and in 1986 joined Merrill as a banker in its junk-bond department.
His elevation to CEO was seen by some as an experiment by the company’s board, most of which have since retired. O’Neal mostly held positions on the client-contact side, which goes against the trading background most of its other CEOs had.