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Krawcheck seen bidding final adieu to Wall Street

Sallie Krawcheck, president of Global Wealth & Investment Management for Bank of America, listens during an interview in New York
Sallie Krawcheck, president of Global Wealth & Investment Management for Bank of America, listens during an interview in New York

By Jessica Toonkel and Ashley Lau

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Don't expect to see Sallie Krawcheck at the helm of another Wall Street bank.

After her firing Tuesday from Bank of America's wealth management unit, it's likely the 46-year-old executive will jump to a money-management firm or private equity firm, said recruiters, industry executives and people who know her personally.

Krawcheck has been approached by a number of money management firms, and is weighing some opportunities, said one person who claimed to be familiar with her thoughts.

Krawcheck declined to comment.

Given her abrupt firing this week and a surprise push out the door of Citigroup Inc almost three years earlier after serving as chief financial officer and global wealth management head, it's not surprising Krawcheck might leave the "sell" side of the investment business, several observers said.

The end of her tenure at two big but troubled banks may reflect personal tensions with bosses but her charm and the bottom-line success she enjoyed at both companies should hold her in good stead on a job search, they added.

"Her marquee name and presence would be a help to a fund company" that uses big brokerage firms to distribute its investment products, said Mark Elzweig, a New York-based recruiter of retail brokers.

FAST CLIMB UP

Krawcheck began her career as a research analyst at Salomon Brothers, was briefly a corporate finance associate at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrrete, and climbed the commercial banking research ladder at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co to become chief executive of the vaunted research firm before being wooed by Citigroup.

Recruiters without specific knowledge of her plans said that AllianceBernstein L.P. -- the current iteration of the firm where she built her reputation -- and Legg Mason Inc are strong possibilities for Krawcheck. Both have strong reputations but have been struggling with investment performance in recent years and suffering from client withdrawals.

Krawcheck's experience as head of Citigroup's Smith Barney and of Bank of America's Merrill Lynch gives her a good base to argue that she has strong insight into how brokers raise money from investors and how they negotiate with fund companies. The downside, recruiters said, is that she has never run a pure asset management operation.

"Taking her on at the top would be a significant risk," one recruiter said.

John Meyers, a spokesman at AllianceBernstein, declined to comment. Mary Athridge, a spokeswoman at Legg Mason, said the firm doesn't comment on speculation.

Neither company is known to be looking for replacements for their top executives.

Krawcheck has certainly caught the attention of powerful Wall Street executives. In the fall of 2002, Sanford "Sandy" Weill recruited her as chief executive of Citi Smith Barney with the charge of restoring the unit's reputation after a scandal over biased stock research.

In 2004, she was promoted to chief financial officer and head of strategy at the banking giant. She had problems, however, with Vikram Pandit, who arrived at Citigroup in December 2007 to replace Weil. Pandit and Krawcheck butted heads on key issues, including how to reimburse clients who bought hedge funds that turned out to be toxic and auction-rate securities that couldn't be sold at any auction.

One year later, Krawcheck was out.

MERRILL CALLING

In August 2009, however, she made a headline return by joining Bank of America -- which earlier that year acquired the brokerage army of Merrill Lynch -- as head of its global investment and wealth management unit.

Client assets and revenue steadily climbed under her watch, even as the commercial bank's fortunes suffered a battering from its ill-fated purchase of Countrywide Financial in 2007. In the first half of this year, net income at the global wealth management unit, including Merrill Lynch, rose 35 percent from a year earlier to $1.04 billion. Bank of America had a $6.8 billion net loss in that period.

Krawcheck and commercial banking chief Joe Price, however, became the first major victims of a restructuring that Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan announced last week as part of his attempt to simplify operations, restore capital and slash expenses. Krawcheck's position was also eliminated, and the private banking, asset management and brokerage operations she ran now report into David Darnell, a longtime commercial banking executive at BofA who was promoted to co-chief operating officer of the company.

"Moynihan wanted more control over what she was doing," said a recruiter familiar with Merrill executives.

SIMPLER POLITICS

At a pure asset management firm, Krawcheck might be able to shake off Wall Street's insatiable demand to meet very short-term goals and the cultural management wars endemic to big financial companies, recruiters said. At Bank of America, for example, Krawcheck had to manage executives running Merrill Lynch, U.S. Trust's private bank and Merrill's private bank -- each of which were generally pursuing the same group of very wealthy individuals.

Some observers say another likely possibility is for Krawcheck to become a deal-maker at a private equity firm, where her charm and savvy would serve equally well.

"She's smart, attractive, and would play well with the investor community," said Gary Goldstein, a Wall Street recruiter who touts Carlyle Group, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co and Bain & Co as potential landing places for Krawcheck.

He said he had no specific knowledge of her plans.

Regardless of where she goes, Krawcheck will likely be spending several months working out her severance.

At a minimum, according to Bank of America's 2010 proxy filing with regulators, Krawcheck will receive between $2.4 million and $4.7 million in stock grants if she is let go -- at a time when BofA shares are worth about half their trading value at the end of 2010.

Based on her past history and that of other fired executives, Krawcheck could take home as much as $5 million to $10 million after negotiations, although Bank of America's parlous financial state may make a monster payout tough.

"Ten million wouldn't sound ridiculous in the old world, but we are in a very different world right now and the bank is talking about laying off over 40,000 people," said Steven Hall, managing director of Steven Hall & Partners, a New York-based executive compensation consultant.

Krawcheck's full severance will depend on whether her departure is characterized as an involuntary termination without cause or a workforce reduction.

"That's the starting point for the negotiations," Hall said. "Her lawyers will probably ask for something much higher."

(Reporting by Jessica Toonkel and Ashley Lau; editing by Jennifer Merritt, Bernard Orr)

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