NEW YORK: After a year that has seen Merrill Lynch buffeted by scandal, the firm has begun a process to replace its current PR chief, who has revealed to PRWeek his plan to retire in the next year to 18 months.
Although the company has witnessed some executive reshuffling under new CEO Stanley O'Neal, Paul Critchlow, the Wall Street giant's SVP for communications and public affairs, said the decision to retire was entirely his own.
Critchlow said speculation that his departure was linked to O'Neal's executive changes was unfounded. The media has characterized O'Neal's revamp as an attempt to solidify his power.
"People who say that don't know me and Stan," said Critchlow. "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.
Critchlow's impending departure comes at a sensitive time for Merrill, which is coming off a difficult PR year.
The brokerage was the first Wall Street firm to come to the attention of regulators for alleged deception by its sell-side research department. Merrill has also been criticized for its alleged role in enabling Enron to hide its true financial condition from investors.
Critchlow said that the 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.
I can also say that I'm proud of the professional way we handled ourselves this year given the difficulties we faced."
The process of choosing a successor is expected to take three to six months. Critchlow expects to retain his title throughout a transition period that is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
Critchlow joined Merrill in 1985, and became head of PR in 1988. He was previously a journalist, and the press secretary for former Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornberg (R).