Merrill's Steffens leaving
May 3, 2001: 8:24 a.m. ET

Former head of broker's private client group to start firm aimed at very wealthy
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - John "Launny" Steffens is leaving his position as vice chairman of Merrill Lynch & Co. to launch an investment management effort aimed at the very wealthy, the brokerage firm announced Thursday.

Steffens has held a number of top jobs at Merrill, but he lost his position as the head of Merrill's U.S. Private Client Group to E. Stanley O'Neal in February 2000.

John Steffens
Vice chairman of Merrill Lynch leaving to set up his own investment management firm. (Source: Merrill Lynch)
The statement announcing his departure said he wanted to be an entrepreneur who could put into practice his philosophy of long-term investing. But he is quoted in Thursday's Wall Street Journal as saying he wasn't satisfied with the loss of responsibility at the brokerage firm.

"Being an adviser is fine, but I would like to be an innovator," he was quoted as saying in an interview.

Joining Steffens in his new venture is J. Ezra Merkin, a New York hedge-fund manager who currently manages approximately $2 billion in his funds and chairs the investment committees of two large private endowments.

Merrill's statement said that it believed Steffens would be able to continue to work with its clients.

"Launny has long had a passionate interest in private investment. He has expressed a desire to pursue this interest on a full-time basis, and we anticipate many opportunities for our firm and our clients to work in partnership with Launny in his new venture," said David Komansky, Merrill's CEO.

Shares of Merrill (MER: Research, Estimates) gained $4 to $67 in trading Wednesday. graphic