E. Stanley O’ Neal was the first African-American to run a major Wall Street firm. O’Neal was born in Roanoke, AL, the son of a farmer and the grandson of a former slave. He  grew up in the tiny rural farming community of Wedowee.

O’Neal’s family moved  to Atlanta, where his father had been employed at General Motors and had moved into the middle class. O’Neal also got a job at a General Motors plant and was evidently spotted by GM as a minority worker who could be primed for a position in corporate management. He graduated from General Motors Institute, now Kettering University, and obtained a scholarship from GM to study at Harvard Business School. He attained his MBA in 1978. O’Neal initially began work as an analyst for General Motors; within three years he was a director in the treasury division.

He joined Merrill Lynch in 1986, eventually running Merrill’s leveraged finance division. O’Neal was the company’s global head of capital markets and co-head of the corporate and institutional client group. From 1998 to 2000, he was their CFO. He then briefly became president of Merrill’s U.S. private client group, before becoming president of the firm in 2001.

By 2003, he was CEO and chairman. Stanley O’Neal rose through the ranks of corporate America to become the first African American to head a major firm on Wall Street. Fortune magazine also named O’Neal the “Most Powerful Black Executive in America.”

Just five years later, however, on October 30, 2007, O’Neal announced that he was stepping down from Merrill Lynch when it was revealed that the company had suffered an $8 billion loss as a result of risky investments.

“I really didn’t have an understanding of the world or any role models, but I had a strong desire to learn, and I think that is what pulled me through.” – E. Stanley O’Neal

References:

(Susan Young , June 1, 2001, https://www.alumni.hbs.edu/stories/Pages/story-bulletin.aspx?num=4388)

(Michael Wursthorn, July 14, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/stan-o-neal-ended-the-mother-merrill-culture-and-hasnt-run-a-company-since-1531573201)

(Deborah McNally,  December 2, 2007, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/oneal-stanley-1951/)

(Tomoeh Murakami Tse and Howard Schneider, October 30, 2007, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/business/technology/2007/10/30/merrill-lynch-ceo-oneal-retires/de173197-8abc-4987-b13b-b88f66cbb9fb/)