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New Merrill Lynch CEO stumps in Boston

Krawcheck stays with party line

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 – 9:18 PM by Brooke Southall
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Sallie Krawcheck: The Merrill Lynch culture will survive

Sallie Krawcheck made a personal visit to the Boston branch of Merrill Lynch & Co. yesterday and spoke to brokers who work there.

The new Merrill Lynch & Co. CEO made her visit to the company’s125 High Street office quietly and without fanfare. Krawcheck’s talk included virtually nothing that has not already been reported in the media, according to a source familiar with her visit. The source refused to disclose details citing Merrill’s strict rules for talking to the press.

Krawcheck, 44, has said little to reporters since she was hired in the first week of August. Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, which owns Merrill, has said that he hired the former Smith Barney CEO to take Merrill Lynch to the “next level.”

What Krawcheck news sources have reported her to have said is that she plans to “open the gap” with competitors but also that she won’t mess with Merrill’s famously proud culture. “What I’m not going to do is turn this into a place I’ve been before,” she said to her firm’s 15,000 stock brokers in a video-recording on Aug.7, according to a Bloomberg report.

She added in the video message that it’s wrong to believe that Merrill’s acquisition by a big bank “means the end of the Merrill Lynch culture.”

What Krawcheck, 44, is trying to say of course is that the muscular and macho culture of Merrill Lynch has not been emasculated. This is a hard sell of course because Merrill is now owned by a North Carolina-based retail bank and that she, a young woman, will be calling the shots. The third difficulty is that Krawcheck did not rise through the brokerage ranks like her predecessor at Merrill, Dan Sontag.

To make necessary changes at Merrill to stop the outflow of assets and brokers, Krawcheck will have to make changes. To accomplish that feat without disturbing a hair on its cultural head will not be easy.

Last week, she made a series of phone calls to the elder statesmen of the organization to build core support, according to an Investment News article. Her visits to branches in Boston and other cities no doubt will help her to widen her base of support among rank and file brokers.

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