Revenge of the Wall Street Nerds: Street Whispers

Antoine Gara - The Street  OCT 17, 2012 2:50 PM

There are still plenty of trader CEOs left in finance, even if Wall Street's been overrun by risk managers.

 


Now that Vikram Pandit is out at Citigroup (NYSE:C), Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) are the only pre-crisis era CEOs left on a Wall Street that is now dominated by "risk management" types.

Among the nation's five largest investment banks, which also includes Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) and Bank of America Merrill Lynch (NYSE:BAC), Blankfein and Dimon are also the only two big bank heads left who are seen as cutting their teeth in the trenches of Wall Street.

Pandit's suspected ouster now puts Blankfein and Dimon in the position of being the deserved ranking statesmen for risk taking on Wall Street, as chief executives like Brian Moynihan of Bank of America and James Gorman of Morgan Stanley pare back some trading and private equity businesses, in favor of more staid operations such as brokerage.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns in 2008 -- in addition to management transition at firms -- cut loose a generation of CEOs who rose from trading floors to C-Suites on Wall Street. Replacements now are likely to have a pedigree in legal affairs, with Bank of America's Moynihan as the best example of a legal eagle CEO. Or they are prone to have experience in less risky banking businesses units, such as Morgan Stanley's Gorman (wealth management) and Pandit's replacement at Citigroup Michael Corbat (commercial banking).

But that's not the whole story.

In fact, there are plenty of trader and banker CEOs left in finance -- it's just that they run firms a step removed from Wall Street away from the big five banks.

For instance, Larry Fink, the architect of the world's largest asset manager BlackRock (NYSE:BLK), cut his teeth running the bond department at First Boston as junk debt came en vogue in the 1980's. He was also a pioneer in mortgage trading and bundling up real estate backed debt.

Fink went on to co-found BlackRock in the late 1980's after rising interest rates blew up parts of First Boston's mortgage business and he's since grown the firm into a monolith that holds roughly $3 trillion in client assets and is a key player in most stock and bond markets. Recently, BlackRock bought Barclays (NYSE:BCS) Global Investors from British lender Barclays, in what stands as one of the biggest post-crisis bank deals as some were selling assets to raise capital. If there's anyone who may be poised to translate time as an executive on Wall Street into success building a more Main Street-focused financial firm, it would be Sean Healy of asset manager Affiliated Managers (NYSE:AMG).

After cutting his teeth working alongside J.C. Flowers at Goldman Sachs as an adviser helping banks out of the savings& loan crisis, Healy moved on to Affiliated Managers in 1994. Under Healy's leadership the asset manager's taken minority stakes in secretive hedge funds like AQR Capital Management and BlueMountain Capita and it's recently purchased mutual fund giant Yacktman Asset Management.

The heads of private equity giants KKR (NYSE:KKR), Apollo Global Management (NYSE:APO) and The Blackstone Group (NYSE:BX) all earned their stripes and built buyout skills working in the investment banking units of Wall Street mainstays before breaking out to master the art of the buyout. Now, those firms are snapping up hedge-fund like investment funds, in a push into some businesses now prohibited at Wall Street banks in the wake of the post-crisis regulations.

Meanwhile some CEOs who were at the helm of Wall Street titans at the height of the crisis have moved onto other corners of finance. John Thain, the former Goldman Sachs executive, who led Merrill Lynch's sale to Bank of America in 2008 now runs commercial and middle market lender CIT Group (NYSE:CIT). Recently, CIT's been speculated as a potential takeover candidate for Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) and its also been mentioned as a buyer of parts of Ally Financial.

While Pandit's sudden resignation from Citigroup on Tuesday certainly is a another sign of the changing shape of Wall Street in the wake of the crisis, there are still plenty of financial firms for investors to look at if they want management with a Wall Street pedigree.