|In 1939 Charles E. Merrill and Winthrop H. Smith came up with a radical idea for investing: democratize the stock market and bring “Wall Street to Main Street.” Together they created a company that would earn the trust of small investors by putting their clients’ interest first. To achieve this, they set down a series of guidelines for employees that came to be known as the Principles. While the rest of Wall Street scoffed, Merrill and Smith put their idea into action. Merrill Lynch expanded capital markets and fueled the growth of the American economy after World War II. In 1974 Winthrop H. Smith Jr. came to work for the company that his late father had co-led for twenty-one years, starting in the “bullpen” as an entry-level investment banking associate. He rose steadily, working not only in investment banking but also in marketing, human resources, finance and sales management. But in 2001 Smith chose to end his successful Wall Street career in its twenty-eighth year for one simple, compelling reason. He believed that the new CEO, E. Stanley O’Neal, did not understand the Principles, nor did he appreciate the nurturing culture and values—known collectively as “Mother Merrill”—that had made the firm one of the most successful and respected companies in the world. Without these in place, Smith was sure the company would falter. He was right.
CATCHING LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE – the first complete history of Merrill Lynch – traces its impact on the world of finance from the day Charlie Merrill opened his one-man shop on January 6, 1914, to the final shareholder meeting prior to its acquisition by Bank of America on December 5, 2008.
“Merrill was at the center of the financial intermediation process that allowed the United States to grow into the economic powerhouse it became in the last half of the twentieth century,” says Win Smith. “The credibility that Merrill Lynch brought to investing at that time is desperately needed today.
“For the hundreds of thousands of us who knew the real Mother Merrill, our experience there was like catching lightning in a bottle. We caught the essence of something powerful and elusive….
“The real story of Merrill Lynch had to be written.”