CHICAGO - Within a week of telling his broker that he and his partners wanted to sell their company, Marvin Ricklefs had hired Merrill Lynch & Co. to structure an employee stock ownership plan.

"They did all the roadwork for us and came back with a proposal from three banks and Merrill Lynch," said Mr. Ricklefs. "Part of the reason we went ahead with the deal was because of Merrill Lynch."

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