Last Hired, First Fired but Merrill Lynch’s Black CEO Had it Coming


Given all the turmoil that’s been rocking the world of high finance, it wasn’t surprising to hear that the first head had been chopped off—E. Stanley O’Neal at Merrill Lynch. What was surprising was finding out that he was black and that no protest squads have been dispatched to demand he be reinstated.

I’m money-stupid so what finance news I get is inadvertent, sandwiched between things I actually pay attention to on the radio. If my friends at NPR discussed O’Neal’s race, it must have either been during a Manilow-moment or during mommy drive-time when I was rocking to “There’s a Hole In My Bucket.” Either way, it’s remarkable that someone who follows ‘black stuff’ for a living wasn’t hit over the head with discussions of the black CEO who got the boot, just with a CEO who got the boot. It’s progress that black robber-barons, while still rare, are common enough that we forget their race after the initial hooplah of mag covers, fawning profiles and NAACP Image Awards and it’s progress that, when they screw up, nobody black gives a damn. (Maybe that’s because making Wall Street money makes you ‘white,’ and therefore on your own when you screw up.)

If you want to flashback to your freshman year of college, check the World Socialist Web Site’s take on O’Neal and the evils of capitalism in general. Otherwise, check out Clarence Page on why black failure can sometimes equal black equality. As he notes:

O’Neal’s departure is a disappointment to those of us who praised his rise after 16 years at the company to become the first African-American to lead a major Wall Street firm. But just as his rise was a sign of progress, so is his slide out the door, as long as it indicates that women and minorities have to meet the same rigorous profitmaking standards that white men do. …America truly is a land where any kid can grow up to be president of, at least, a multibillion-dollar corporation.”

And where any kid can get his hat handed to him for screwing up.

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