So John Thain wants a little something extra for his work at Merrill Lynch ( MER). According to The Wall Street Journal, that means a bonus of up to $10 million. Why not? The former head of NYSE Euronext ( NYX), who has been chairman and CEO of Merrill for less than a year, has only been in the executive suite for billions of dollars of writedowns, losses in the last three quarters totaling more than $11 billion and a stock price that has dropped more than 70% in 2008. Now, in fairness, Thain joined Merrill at a terrible time for the securities firm and the financial sector in general, and many of this year's writedowns are the result of soured bets that were made when Thain was still running the stock exchange. The Journal report, citing people with knowledge of the situation, said that Thain's argument is that without his September move to sell Merrill to Bank of America ( BAC), the firm and its thousands of employees might have suffered a much worse fate than a loss of independence. Of course, even if Thain did save Merrill from vanishing from the face of the Earth, the sale of the firm isn't likely to preserve all of the jobs that BofA will be acquiring. Here then is a thought for a much better use for that $10 million: Take any bonus requests, and if the funds are in fact available, put them in a severance pool. Thain certainly isn't in danger of going hungry without another $10 million in his pocket, but some of his rank-and-file charges might not be so lucky once their new bosses in Charlotte take over. At this point, it should be clear that the job market isn't getting any better any time soon, so going the human route might not be a bad idea for Merrill.
Merrill's compensation committee is said to be "leaning toward denying" bonuses for the CEO and other senior executives. Probably a sound move, considering that many Wall Street firms, who are weathering the same credit crisis as Merrill, are reducing or even eliminating bonuses this year. And before you go worrying too much about him, know that Thain will be just fine. He's a respected executive with years of experience and ample personal liquidity, and he's already set up with job at BofA that will see him in charge of banking, securities and wealth management. A $10 million check isn't going to change his life, but doling it out to the less fortunate might. (After the market closed, reports emerged that Thain had dropped the request and would no longer seek a bonus.)