It's hard enough combining two banking cultures. Bank of America looks to be having a stab at melding three after buying Merrill Lynch and installing a Goldman Sachs star into a top job. The banking giant may well succeed — but wind up with the worst of each.
B of A has unveiled a leadership re-jig of its corporate finance and advisory businesses, a month after Goldman trading whiz Tom Montag added those areas to his markets mandate. The brief stewardship of B of A veteran Brian Moynihan failed to persuade many Merrill staff their new owner was committed to investment banking, particularly outside the US.
Montag's first move is to appoint Merrill's top European rainmaker, Andrea Orcel, to be his right-hand man helping with strategy and looking after clients. Orcel will work alongside three global co-heads, two in New York and one in London. Yet another Montag deputy will be shipped out to Hong Kong from Manhattan to be president of the Asia-Pacific region.
This multi-headed monster looks designed to assuage egos. The Herculean management efforts required to tame it will be compounded by the cultural clash set to be unleashed.
Montag was recruited by fellow Goldman acolyte John Thain just before Merrill's emergency sale to B of A a year ago. Imprinting Goldman's partnership model on Merrill's more individualistic style already looked a challenge. Further overlaying B of A's committee-led approach will require extraordinary people-management skills.
Each of these philosophies might work on its own. But a partnership quickly falters when partners mistrust each other. Committees staffed by cynics often disintegrate into a marshy morass. Bankers who thrive on autonomy can wind up ostracized renegades in an inconsistent culture.
It is reassuring that Orcel for his part seems to be expressing a vote of confidence in the pitch from Montag and B of A boss Ken Lewis. But history doesn't favor the new set-up.
When Chase Manhattan bought advisory boutique Beacon Group, UK merchant bank Robert Fleming and investment bank JPMorgan in the same year, it too tried to have it all. Multiple attempts to cement a cohesive culture derived from each firm failed in the first few years — until Jamie Dimon arrived as chief executive to pull it all together. B of A's path could well be a similar struggle. The new management structure probably won't last long.