Merrill Managers on the Move: Four Market Execs Leave in a Week
(Updated to note additional departure of Lubin in Baltimore.)
At least five of Merrill Lynch’s roughly 105 market executives have left the firm since April with four of those departures happening last week, according to sources familiar with the moves.
Three have agreed to join Morgan Stanley Wealth Management following their required 60-day garden leaves while one is said to be joining an independent firm and another is evaluating offers.
The departures stood out, according to current and former managers, because they followed four other exits earlier in the year, happened in relatively quick succession and included veteran names as well as four who are diverse.
They also came after Merrill realigned its market and divisional managers’ compensation resulting in a roughly 30% cut to its bonus pool for market executives this spring.
A number of market executives who did not meet “scorecard” criteria, which are based on customer and asset growth, banking sales, advisor retention and other goals, saw more severe cuts while others received one-time stock grants that made up for some of the decline. The firm also changed its scorecard metrics late in 2020, which frustrated some managers whose rankings fell as a result, sources said.
“The scorecard world is a difficult one,” said a Merrill manager with knowledge of the departures. “The people who survive drive every single thing that the firm wants regardless of whether the advisors like it.”
A spokesman for Merrill Lynch confirmed the exits but said that the number of market executive departures so far this year is “consistent” with last year’s attrition rate. All of the five roles have been replaced with a permanent candidate or interim leader while the firm searches for a longterm manager, he said.
“We have a deep bench of diverse talent across the country which we continue to align to support our advisors and record growth,” the spokesman said in a statement.
In addition, since 2017, diverse candidates have represented 60% or more of each year’s class within the firm’s Market Executive Leadership Academy, the two-year development program for market heads, the spokesperson said.
Merrill does not report diversity of its field leadership but said in October 4.5% of advisors are Black while 9% are Latinx, and 21% are women.
The most recent round of exits followed at least three other market executives and a more senior divisional manager in the private wealth business who left earlier in the year.
In a previously unreported move, John J. Bell, a market executive in San Francisco, resigned in March and joined Wells Fargo in New York on May 19, according to BrokerCheck and a source familiar with the move. Another manager, Jeffrey M. Lubin, who spent all but one year of his 28-year career at Merrill, and ran its Baltimore & Associates Market left in recent months, according to sources and his BrokerCheck record, which shows his registration lapsed May 28. He has not registered with a new firm, and his LinkedIn still reflects his Merrill affiliation.
Separately, Willie Thomas, a former National Football League player who had run Merrill’s Boca Tropics territory, left to take over a Morgan Stanley branch in Menlo Park, California in April after a garden leave.
Brett Thelander, a regional head for private wealth in Chicago, gave notice in February and officially joined Rockefeller Capital Management last month.
Albritten confirmed that he will be joining Morgan Stanley in Dallas, Texas, but declined to comment further in a brief message sent through social media. The manager, who was transferred to Memphis in 2018 from Dallas, had wanted to return to his former city but had been unable to do so at Merrill, the sources said.
Albritten had been with Bank of America since 2004 and was also a market president helping to coordinate business referrals between the bank and brokerage, according to LinkedIn.
Miller, also a market president, and Stephens are also expected to join Morgan Stanley. Stephens is joining in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the sources said. Neither returned requests for comment.
A spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley declined to comment or confirm the hires.
Miller, who wrote a column in May for a local business publication on closing the gender wealth gap and was a frequent speaker at internal and external events, had been with Merrill since 1997. She had been head of the alternative investments distribution for Merrill Private Wealth Management and Bank of America Private Bank before becoming a market executive, according to her LinkedIn.
Stephens joined Merrill in 2010 from Edward Jones and had been overseeing Texas offices in Abilene, Amarillo, Hobbs, Lubbock, and Midland as well as a Lawton, Oklahoma branch and another in Roswell, New Mexico.
Porpora is said to be joining Sanctuary Wealth, an independent brokerage firm founded two years ago by a former Merrill divisional manager. Porpora, whose move was later confirmed in an announcement, had joined Merrill after graduating from Miami University in 2006, according to LinkedIn.
A Sanctuary spokesperson did not immediately return an emailed request for comment, and Porpora did not return a request for comment sent through social media.
Smart confirmed her departure but said she is still evaluating next steps as she is looking for a role based closer to family on the East Coast. She started at Merrill in 2006 as an advisor after a career in pharmaceutical sales, according to LinkedIn.