Stanley O'Neal: former CEO of Merrill Lynch.


Stanley O’Neal (born October 7, 1951) is an American business executive who served as the Chief Executive Officer of Merrill Lynch from 2002 until October 2007. He was elected chairman of the Board in 2003.

In 2001, when he became president of Merrill Lynch & Co., O’Neal became the first African American CEO of a major Wall Street brokerage. 

Early Life

Stanley O’Neal was born on October 7, 1951, in Roanoke, Alabama. He is the eldest child of Earnest O’Neal, a farmer, and Ann Scales, a domestic worker. He spent his early childhood delivering newspapers and picking cotton and corn on his family farm. O’Neal was educated in a one-room school built by his grandfather, a former slave. 1 He was one of the first African Americans to attend an integrated West Fulton High School in Atlanta, Georgia.


Stanley O’Neal also worked briefly on GM’s assembly line as a teenager under a work-study program offered by the General Motors Institute (later known as Kettering University), where he gained a degree in industrial administration in 1974. GM later provided O’Neal a scholarship to attend Harvard Business School, where he attained his MBA in 1978 and later rejoined GM as a Treasury Analyst. 2

Early Career

While attending college, O’Neal worked part-time on the assembly line at General Motors in Doraville, George. After graduation, he joined GM’s Treasury Office, where he held a number of financial positions of increasing responsibility.

Merril Lynch

In 1986, O’Neal joined Merrill Lynch as an investment banker; he was promoted to CFO in 1998. O’Neal was an employee of Merrill Lynch for 21 years, serving as President and Chief Operating Officer from July 2001 to December 2002; President of U.S. Private Client from February 2000 to July 2001; Chief Financial Officer from 1998 to 2000; and Executive Vice President and Co-head of Global Markets and Investment Banking from 1997 to 1998. 

O’Neal rose to prominence at Merrill by turning around its junk bond business in the early ’90s

As president of Merrill’s U.S. Private Client Group, O’Neal oversaw about 800 branch offices that serve almost six million benefit plans with financial services. He is one of the highest paid African Americans working on Wall Street. In 1999, he had reported earnings of $7.5 million and held stock options worth $11.5 million.

In 2002, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed O’Neal to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation Board, tasked with overseeing the redevelopment of New York City following the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. 

Board Membership

  • Past -  Alcoa, General Motors, BlackRock, American Beacon Advisors, Inc., Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
  • Ronald McDonald House, the National Urban League, and Nasdaq

O’Neal was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Economic Club of New York.


Personal Life

 O’Neal met his future wife, economist Nancy Garvey, while at General Motors.  The couple married in 1983, and in 1991 Nancy gave birth to twins: a son and a daughter. 

Stanley O’Neal’s profile is part of our Black Excellence Series.

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