What's the price for failure on Wall Street these days?If you're Stanley O'Neal, it's, oh, about $160 million. The ousted Merrill Lynch ( MER) CEO is walking away with about that much following this week's palace coup. Sources confirm that O'Neal leaves with about $90 million in stock, $40 million in options and another $30 million in pension and other goodies. The finer points are still being worked out. And the values change with the company's share price. Not bad for years of alleged "underperformance." Makes you wonder what Merrill would pay for a really good CEO. A spokesman for Merrill said O'Neal gets no special severance package, but he does get to keep shares and options that had not yet vested. And he gets to say that he "retired" at 56. Sure. Kind of the way Julius Caesar "retired" as dictator of Rome. O'Neal was taken out by a boardroom coup following record losses at the Wall Street bank. Merrill lost $2.2 billion during the market turmoil last quarter, after taking an $8.4 billion write-down. The news sent its shares tumbling. O'Neal then alienated allies by broaching merger talks with Wachovia Bank ( WB) without first telling his own board. The knives came out last week. A whispering campaign showed board members distancing themselves from the isolated head honcho -- and implying they had been unhappy with his performance for years.
It's the usual rewriting of history. It's only been 21 months since the same board members were lavishing O'Neal with praise and a special $36 million bonus for doing such a good job. They gave him another $18.5 million cash bonus plus another $27 million in stock and $2 million in extra incentives just last January. Turns out they were embracing him and kissing him on the cheek almost up to the moment when they stuck in the shiv. "Mother Merrill" my eye.