NEW YORK — Merrill Lynch's departing chief executive, Stan O'Neal, will walk away with $161.5 million in stock, options and retirement benefits, the company said Tuesday.
O'Neal, the second-highest paid Wall Street CEO in 2006, retired from Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. on Tuesday, almost a week after the investment bank reported its largest-ever quarterly loss. The $2.24 billion loss was precipitated by a $7.9 billion third-quarter writedown, as the company revalued assets backed by shaky mortgages. O'Neal's ouster was expected after the loss.
O'Neal left with a $131.4 million equity package of stock, options, restricted shares and restricted units. His restricted stock and restricted stock units will continue to vest on their original schedules, the company said.
He also has retirement benefits worth $24.7 million, while his deferred compensation stands at $5.4 million, according to the company. He will be entitled to an office and an executive assistant for up to three years.
Since O'Neal will keep his options and his stock grants, he could do even better if the stock rises under a new CEO, said James F. Reda, a compensation consultant. A $10 jump in the stock under new management could mean $30 million for O'Neal.
There is some precedent for such an ironic windfall. After Michael Eisner was ousted as CEO at The Walt Disney Co. in 2005, he made another $100 million when the company's stock price improved under his replacement, Reda said.
"It's a funny dynamic," Reda said.
But Reda questioned both the size of O’Neal’s package and why Merrill made O’Neal, 56, eligible for retirement even as he ran the company. The policy guaranteed O’Neal so much money that “he was basically indifferent,” Reda said.
O'Neal's parting wealth comes after he spent five years as Merrill's CEO, earning nearly top dollar. O'Neal's 2006 pay was approximately $48 million, second on Wall Street only to the $54.3 million earned by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein.
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