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Embattled Merrill Lynch CEO O'Neal Steps Down

Stan O'Neal, chairman, chief executive and president of Merrill Lynch, in a 2003 file photo.
Joe Raedie
Getty Images
Stan O'Neal, chairman, chief executive and president of Merrill Lynch, in a 2003 file photo.

Merrill Lynch, the world's largest brokerage, said Tuesday that its embattled Chief Executive Stan O'Neal has retired, effective immediately.

Merrill Lynch named Alberto Cribiore as interim head. Cribiore, a member of the Merrill board since 2003, will serve as chairman of the committee to find a replacement for O'Neal.

O'Neal, 56, came under fire when Merrill Lynch announced a third-quarter, $2.3 billion loss and an $8.4 billion charge for failed credit- and mortgage-related investments. His fate was also plunged into doubt after he initiated talks about a possible merger with Wachovia, according to various reports. Such a deal could have handed O'Neal a $250 million separation package if he wasn't chosen to lead the new company.

O'Neal, who rose to power five years ago, was known for shaking up top management and putting a greater emphasis on riskier bets rather than the safety of just selling stocks.

That strategy — which handed Merrill Lynch record results during the market's peak — came with a heavy cost during the tumultuous third quarter.

"Mr. O'Neal and the board of directors both agreed that a change in leadership would best enable Merrill Lynch to move forward and focus on maintaining the strong operating performance of its businesses, which the company last week reported were performing well, apart from subprime mortgages and CDOs," Merrill Lynch said in a statement.

CDOs, or collateralized debt obligations, are complex instruments that combine slices of different kinds of risk. It was Merrill's bet on CDOs, and the subprime mortgages underpinning many of them, that proved to be O'Neal's downfall.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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