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BlackRock CEO Fink on Short List to Run Merrill

BlackRock Chief Executive Laurence Fink has long been on Wall Street's short lists to run any one of America's top investment houses. Now he may get a chance to prove that he can do the job.

Fink told Reuters he was not aware of being a candidate for the CEO post at Merrill Lynch. But people familiar with the situation have said the board of the world's largest brokerage was considering him to replace Stan O'Neal, who is widely expected to step down.

Larry Fink
Larry Fink
Larry Fink

A native Californian with deep roots in the mortgage markets, Fink has won praise from analysts, investors and rivals for transforming BlackRock from a small bond shop into America's largest publicly traded asset manager.

This year alone, BlackRock delighted investors with a 28 percent jump in its share price and news that it pulled in $41 billion in new assets in the third quarter, far more than any rival. Fink, 54, founded the company with seven partners in 1988 after working at private equity firm Blackstone Group.

Famous for the long hours he keeps, Fink is also known for
navigating turbulent markets, wooing and keeping top talent, and speaking plainly about all types of topics, according to people who work with him and know him.

Indeed, Fink is already well acquainted with Merrill Lynch as BlackRock bought its asset management unit in 2006. Merrill now owns 49 percent of BlackRock shares.

Smooth Integration

The integration, which followed BlackRock's acquisition of Boston-based State Street Research, proceeded smoothly as Fink kept staff focused on delivering top returns.

Since then, BlackRock strengthened its hedge fund business even more by taking over Quellos Group LLC's fund of funds operation, giving clients even more opportunities to invest in
these loosely regulated portfolios.

All of this caught the eyes of competitors and caused them to reason that it might be good to have Larry Fink on their side of the table.

When Morgan Stanley searched for a successor to embattled former CEO Phil Purcell, Fink's name was mentioned.

And before BlackRock teamed up with Merrill's asset management business, Morgan Stanley again approached him, with CEO John Mack discussing the possibilities of a merger, people
familiar with the matter said.

Fink is known to be both diplomatic and plain-spoken.

He helped persuade embattled former New York Stock Exchange Chairman Dick Grasso to step down and helped find John Thain to take the top job.

Earlier this month, Fink, one of the first to package mortgage obligations and who helped popularize those products, delivered the sharpest warning yet that recent credit market
problems may not be over yet.

Problems Just Beginning

"I think the problems in credit are just beginning," he told the CNBC television network. "The mortgage market is not on a sound footing today."

It was Merrill's third-quarter write-down of $8.4 billion, mostly because of bad bets tied to risky subprime loans and related securities, that led to reports that O'Neal looked set to lose his job. He did not respond to messages left at his home and office.

Fink, who traditionally wears a tie to work even as he encourages other BlackRock employees to sport more casual wear, is usually at his Park Avenue office by 6 a.m.

He sticks to a grueling but predictable schedule that includes lunch at a favorite Italian restaurant near the office and lots of overseas travel.

Over the years, Fink's fascination with geology has become well-known on Wall Street, where he and his partners stuck to the rock theme in naming their company, as well as products
like the Obsidian and Galaxite hedge funds.

Even in his free time, rocks aren't far from Fink's mind. People who know him say the avid outdoorsman enjoys hiking and fly-fishing in the mountainous state of Colorado.

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