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Hardwick Simmons resigned Friday as

Prudential Securities'

CEO, 18 months ahead of his own schedule.

Simmons, who took the helm of the

Prudential Insurance

unit after the firm's limited partnership scandal during the early 1990s, said in a memo to employees that the parent company's "organizational intentions in preparation" for its 2001 shift to a publicly held institution made the time right for him to step down.

He signed off the memo: "I'll be rooting for you."

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John Strangfeld, chief executive of the firm's global asset-management unit, will succeed Simmons. James Price, executive vice president of the firm's private client group, was named president of Prudential Securities. He'll continue to be responsible for the firm's retail business and will head its Internet activities.

Inside Prudential Securities, it was widely believed that Simmons wanted the securities unit spun off from its parent company, two people close to the company say. But Arthur Ryan, Prudential Insurance CEO, was intent on keeping the unit part of the larger company.

In a statement Friday, that much was at least clear. Ryan said, "With Prudential's ongoing support,

Prudential Securities will continue to be a critical part of our company's growth domestically and internationally for both institutional and individual clients."

Rumors that Prudential Securities was going to be spun off from the parent company or acquired by another securities firm have been frequent during the past two years as the firm has struggled to recruit and retain experienced brokers and maintain its business in the face of mounting competition.

"Wick Simmons did a good job of guiding Pru through a difficult period," said Michael Flanagan, an independent analyst who runs

Financial Services Analytics

. "But I don't think it's fully recovered from its self-inflicted image problem."