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Morgan Stanley, Merrill chiefs give up bonuses

The chief executives of Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch & Co. are going without bonuses for a year that has seen Wall Street ravaged by staggering losses.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The chief executives of Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch & Co. are going without bonuses for a year that has seen Wall Street ravaged by staggering losses, mass layoffs and the collapse of storied firms.

Morgan Stanley’s CEO John J. Mack is giving up a bonus for the second straight year, while Merrill Lynch & Co. said its CEO John Thain also asked to go without the extra compensation for 2008 after reports surfaced he had sought as much as $10 million.

Mack told employees Monday in a memo obtained by The Associated Press that he and the firm’s two presidents, James Gorman and Walid Chammah, informed the board’s compensation committee of their decision to forgo 2008 bonuses, and the committee accepted.

Mack — who did not receive a bonus for 2007, either — said the company is changing year-end compensation for other employees, too.

The executives, however, are still being paid. Last year, Mack earned a salary of $800,000 as well as nearly $400,000 in other compensation, including personal use of a corporate jet.

Compensation for the 14 members of the firm’s operating committee will be down an average of 75 percent, and down 65 percent for the 35 members of the management committee.

Morgan Stanley plans to tie compensation for all employees eligible for bonuses more closely to performance. It will also allow for “clawbacks” — where the company could reclaim any bonus paid to an employee if his or her actions led to “the need for a restatement of results, a significant financial loss or other reputational harm,” the memo said.

The CEO compensation debate comes as global banks have lost billions of dollars amid a credit crisis that still has yet to be contained. In the last few months, major U.S. banks have taken advantage of a $700 billion government bailout program to help them avoid fates similar to that of investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October.

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein — and six of his top lieutenants — announced last month that they won’t take cash or stock bonuses for 2008.

Merrill Lynch said Thain and four other top executives — President and COO Greg Fleming, Chief Financial Officer Nelson Chai, President of Global Wealth Management Robert McCann, and General Counsel Rosemary Berkery — have all requested that they not receive bonuses for 2008. According to a statement by the bank, the executives cited “current economic and market conditions” for their request. Directors at the regularly scheduled board meeting Monday accepted the offer.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Thain previously sought a multimillion dollar bonus, which raised the ire of some regulators.

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is conducting an ongoing inquiry into executive compensation at Wall Street firms, has been asking firms to scrap their bonuses this year.

“Morgan Stanley and Mr. Mack have taken a smart and prudent first step,” Cuomo said in a statement made before the Merrill Lynch announcement. “American taxpayers have seen their investments crater while simultaneously having to fund the Wall Street bailout with billions of their tax dollars. This gesture by Morgan Stanley is appropriate, and I hope other firms like Merrill Lynch will take it to heart.”

Merrill Lynch shareholders on Friday approved the brokerage’s acquisition by Bank of America Corp., creating the nation’s largest financial services company. Thain ushered through the combination in September at fire sale prices to avoid a collapse similar to that of Lehman Brothers.

Once the takeover is completed, Thain will be in charge of the combined company’s global banking, securities and wealth management businesses. He won’t join BofA’s board.

Thain joined Merrill Lynch in 2007 after serving as CEO of the New York Stock Exchange. He got a $15 million bonus when he joined the brokerage.