With investment banks forced to write down some $80 billion of losses amid a growing credit crisis, more top executives are getting the ax as Wall Street moves to shore up its damaged image.
The latest executive to fall was Morgan Stanley's Zoe Cruz, a 25-year veteran at the firm and one of the most powerful women in the financial world. Cruz was ousted as co-president Thursday in a sweeping management shake-up aimed at turning around the company.
Cruz joins a growing list of Wall Street's top names who have been fired since the summer, including Merrill Lynch & Co.'s Stan O'Neal and Citigroup Inc.'s Charles Prince, for presiding over firms that became mired in the subprime mortgage tar-pit.
Also Thursday, online brokerage E-Trade Financial Corp. said CEO Mitch Caplan would step down from his position, and there continues to be speculation that Bear Stearns Cos. head James Cayne will be forced to retire early.
"The captains are going down with the ship, whether they are rising stars or not doesn't matter," said David Easthope, a senior analyst at business consulting group Celent. "The losses are so large and embarrassing to the organization that they are getting rid of people to satisfy the public perception that they are fixing things."
Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack also moved co-President Robert Scully, who was named to the job along with Cruz in 2006, to the newly created Office of the Chairman. Cruz — who was nicknamed "Cruz Missile" within the firm for her hard-charging demeanor — is a rare holdover from the management team of former CEO Phil Purcell, who was ousted in 2005 and counted her as a top lieutenant.
Scully and Cruz will be replaced by Walid A. Chammah and James P. Gorman. Chammah, 53, was named global head of investment banking in July, while Gorman, 49, runs the global wealth management group.
Of the roughly $80 billion in losses among investment banks in the past few quarters, Morgan Stanley's share is a $3.7 billion write-down that the bank will take in the fourth quarter.
Mack also got rid of the heads of the departments that caused the massive write-down. The heads of both the credit group and securities products groups were both pushed aside, a move that has been seen by other major Wall Street banks during the past several months.
They join some fairly high-profile executives who have been shown the door by corporate boards unsettled by losses during the past few quarters. Bad bets on mortgage-backed securities have caused those investments to plummet in value, and created an overall aversion to risk by investors.
O'Neal was the first CEO to go earlier this month, and Citi's Prince followed just a week later. The investment banks are hoping a change in leadership will help reassure investors who have watched stock prices plunge this year.
Earlier this year, Bear Stearns' Cayne forced President Warren Spector to leave after two hedge funds the firm controlled collapsed from links to subprime mortgages. Borrowers with risky credit have been defaulting on home loans at an alarming rate, and that's caused other securities to fall as well.
Mack said the new leadership team was put in place to help navigate Morgan Stanley through the unfolding credit crisis.
"We see significant opportunities to build on the market leadership positions we have across our global franchise and to take advantage of the strong foundation we've put in place in recent years," he said in a statement. "Today's markets, however, are changing rapidly, and we're putting in place a leadership team that is ideally suited to help Morgan Stanley realize the opportunities ahead, while continuing to navigate the current challenging condition."
A Morgan Stanley spokesman declined to comment beyond the company's statement.
The company is expected to report fourth-quarter earnings in mid-December. Analysts predict it will report a profit of 2 cents per share on $5.6 billion of revenue.
Morgan Stanley shares are down about 23 percent so far this year, as investors have sold off Wall Street institutions that have been slammed by credit problems.