Waterhouse Exec Bounces Back From E*Trade

Frank Petrilli has returned to his old job at TD Waterhouse, just days after taking the president's post at rival E*Trade Securities.
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If it wasn't enough that online brokerages have invaded old Wall Street's turf and stolen its customers, now their executives are adopting the job-hopping ways of their pinstriped predecessors.

Proof comes in the form of Frank Petrilli, who Wednesday returned to his old job as president and chief operating officer of

TD Waterhouse Group

(TWE)

, just nine days after taking the president's post at rival

E*Trade Securities

, a unit of

E*Trade

(EGRP)

.

"We made it clear when Frank left that we regarded him highly and that the door was always open for him to return, and we are happy that he is back," Stephen McDonald, TD Waterhouse's chief executive, said in a press release. Such flip-flopping, most likely accompanied by a hefty pay increase for the prodigal son's return home, is common on Wall Street but hadn't quite caught on with the new electronic firms until recently.

"We're seeing much more of that these days," says Russ Gerson, head of Wall Street recruiting for

Baines Gwinner

. It's much more difficult to attract and retain people during a hot economy, and people see other opportunities everywhere. As a result, there's less stigma about quitting, Gerson explains. "It's more accepted to come back after leaving a job -- people are more mercenary now."

Earlier this year, for example,

Hambrecht & Quist's

(HQ)

equity markets chief Greg Ingram was set to jump to

Thomas Weisel Partners

, but reconsidered and returned to H&Q after missing only one day at his desk, according to four people familiar with the situation.

If it was a plea for attention, it worked. Several weeks later, William Timken, H&Q's vice chairman and co-founder, announced his retirement. Ingram assumed Timken's capital markets duties and was named to H&Q's operating committee. An H&Q spokeswoman says Ingram never quit.

Petrilli, already back in the office at TD Waterhouse, says his situation is in no way similar to the jumping for dollars among Wall Street bankers. "It was a combination of factors that led me to come back," Petrilli says. "I made a very hasty decision to leave. In retrospect, perhaps it was too hasty."

E*Trade also put out a press release Wednesday, in which Christos Cotsakos, E*Trade's chairman and CEO, called Petrilli's decision to return to TD Waterhouse "disconcerting." An E*Trade spokesman declined to comment beyond the press release.

Petrilli, who described his decision to return to TD Waterhouse as "a personal and family one," was married just last month and recently bought a house in New York. The prospect of relocating to E*Trade's offices in California, Virginia or Georgia was daunting, he says. "It was something I was going to have to do over the next three months, and I didn't even know where I was going to go," he adds.

Petrilli says his foray to the rival E*Trade wasn't intended to force TD Waterhouse to boost his salary or promote him. (It was reportedly parent bank

Toronto Dominion's

decision to put McDonald in charge of the newly public online brokerage unit that led Petrilli to test the waters with E*Trade.)

"They didn't sweeten the pot for me to get me to come back. I had already agreed to come back; they did it after the fact," Petrilli says. And as far as the succession issue, Petrilli says "that was not the case then, and it's not the case now."

Petrilli also says he can't comment on TD Waterhouse's stock price, which fell more than 10% on news of his leaving. The stocks of all online brokerages have been getting pummeled in the past several days. Waterhouse is down about 40% since mid-July and closed at 15 1/2, down 5/8, Wednesday; E*Trade is down 37% during the same period, and closed at 23 3/4, down 15/16.