by Thomas Wailgum

Financial Industry Mergers, Acquisitions and Meltdowns: What’s in Store for IT Execs and Staffers?

Sep 19, 20085 mins
CareersIT Leadership

Economic chaos has rocked thousands in IT: From CIOs, such as Merrill Lynch's Tom Sanzone and Washington Mutual's Deb Horvath, to tons of jittery IT workers.

Perhaps Tom Sanzone saw this coming. Perhaps he did not.


Credit Suisse CIO Jumps Ship to Merrill Lynch Amid Industry Turmoil

Wall Street Financial Crisis to Lead to Layoffs in IT

Wall Street’s Impact on Enterprise IT

But Sanzone, who is Merrill Lynch’s brand-new EVP and chief administrative officer (which is the top technology position), may be looking for a new place to hang his hat since Bank of America announced on Sept. 15 that it was buying troubled Merrill Lynch for $50 billion. (Other than announcing that three directors of Merrill Lynch will join Bank of America’s board of directors., as of Sept. 19 the companies have not yet announced which top executives from each company will remain with the combined entity once the acquisition is complete.)

Sanzone left his high-profile CIO post at Credit Suisse in late February 2008 to join Merrill Lynch, though he didn’t actually start his new job until mid-July, due to his preexisting employment contract with Credit Suisse. (To read an inside account of Sanzone’s departure and the early signs of economic chaos at both Credit Suisse and Merrill Lynch, see “Credit Suisse CIO Jumps Ship to Merrill Lynch Amid Industry Turmoil.”)

According to a Merrill Lynch filing with the SEC, Sanzone was slated to earn approximately $10 million during his first year (a base salary of $600,000 plus a $9.4 million bonus.)

It’s not entirely clear if Sanzone will still receive this compensation in the event he loses his job due to Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch. The legalese of Sanzone’s employment agreement with Merrill Lynch suggests that he may very well receive this compensation even if he’s forced out in the aftermath of the BofA deal: The employment agreement states that if Sanzone is terminated without cause or if he wants to resign from the company for “good reason” before he is paid any portion of his $9.4 million bonus, that bounty will awarded to him in cash.

Sanzone’s future with Bank of America isn’t the only one that’s uncertain. Thousands of other IT workers in the financial services industry are wondering whether their jobs are safe.

Collateral Damage

Outside of Mahogany Row where golden parachutes are reserved for the privileged few, “there’s clearly going to be a reshuffling of the deck” inside IT departments, says Marc Lewis, CEO of executive recruiter Leadership Capital Group (LCG).

So far, the reshuffling of the deck is looking more like a collapsing house of cards. Management consulting firm Janco Associates reported on Sept. 15 that the financial industry turmoil, along with HP’s announcement that it would lay off 24,600 employees over three years, would “glut” the IT job market.

Based on interviews with “highly placed sources” within Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, Janco reported that “a large number of IT professionals in both organizations will lose their jobs before the end of the year.”

For instance, Janco estimates that more than 230 IT professionals at Lehman Brothers who make $250,000 or more a year will be out of a job by year-end. At Merrill Lynch more than 180 IT professionals making more than $250,000 a year will be also without work, according to Janco.

And then there’s the loads of speculation and angst surrounding Deb Horvath, CIO of Washington Mutual, and her IT staff. WaMu just replaced its CEO, had its debt ratings reduced by Moody’s Investor Service and Standard & Poor’s, and, according to a New York Times article, is trying to sell itself to Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase or HSBC.

“The unsurprising announcement,” notes the Times article, “comes as the bank, which has suffered badly from losses on mortgages it had made, continues to stumble.”

Survival of the Fittest

Those at the top of the food chain—the Sanzones and Horvaths—most likely will receive million-dollar payout packages if they are asked to exit their companies. (A Merrill Lynch spokesperson declined to comment or make Sanzone available for this story. Washington Mutual and Horvath did not return a request to comment for this story.)

“What you’ll see now is that this is where the haves and the have nots get separated,” says Lewis, referring to those IT executives who have contracts and the staff who are employed at will. “The senior people are all going to be cashing out on their golden handcuffs.”

Lewis is less optimistic about rank and file IT staff. In an acquisition, like Bank of America’s proposed purchase of Merrill Lynch, “typically what someone should be nervous about, at lower levels, is this: Are you one of the top performers?” he says. “Because if you’re in the top 50 percent of performers at either institution, and you’re in the lower level of IT, your job is probably safe.”

The higher the IT worker sits in the hierarchy, the worse his chances of keeping his job. “If you’re a high performer at the high level [of IT], it doesn’t really matter if you’re a high performer or not: only one person wins the top job,” Lewis says. “They don’t usually keep two heads of application development.” (For more on this topic, see “Assessing the Impact of Mergers and Acquisitions Activity on CIOs.”)

And, as in the case of executives like Sanzone, who’s been tremendously successful, Lewis says, “they don’t usually keep two CIOs.”