INTERNATIONAL: Merrill Lynch begins hunt for Critchlow's successor

NEW YORK: Merrill Lynch is searching for a successor to PR chief Paul Critchlow who has unveiled plans to retire in the next 18 months.

The Wall Street giant, which has been buffeted by analyst scandals over the last year, is expected to take up to six months finding a replacement for the outgoing SV-P for communications and public affairs, who has been with the group for 18 years.

Critchlow's announcement follows a troubled time for the group.

Merrill was the first Wall Street firm to come to the attention of US regulators for alleged deception by its sell-side research department and has been criticised for its alleged role in enabling Enron to hide its true financial condition from investors.

The group has also seen a recent executive reshuffling under new CEO Stanley O'Neal, but Critchlow said speculation that his departure was linked to board changes was unfounded.

He said: 'We have a very close relationship. It's just the right time for a change, both for me personally and for this position.'

Critchlow had survived two previous CEO transitions prior to O'Neal's accession, and said he has been contemplating retirement for over a year.

He added that the firm's recent difficulties played no role in his decision.

'Sure it's been a difficult year in some ways, but I've been through tough times before,' said Critchlow. 'After 18 years, I already had lots of scar tissue.'

Critchlow is set to retain his title throughout a transition period that is expected to take 12 to 18 months. He joined Merrill in 1985, and became head of PR in 1988.

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