Analysis: Wave of departures raises BlackRock questions

Fri Jun 22, 2012 8:21pm EDT
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By Aaron Pressman and Jessica Toonkel

BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - A series of high-level departures from BlackRock this month has raised questions about the direction of the world's largest money manager.

Coming in rapid succession over the past two weeks, the departures included Susan Wagner, a founding partner and vice chairman, who will retire at the end of June, and Robert Capaldi, who has already left and was senior client strategist for Chief Executive Laurence Fink.

New York-based BlackRock also announced the departures of two of the firm's most prominent portfolio managers, chief equity strategist Bob Doll and energy sector fund star Daniel Rice. Rice will help transition some of his funds, a process that is expected to last through December and Doll will retire at the end of month, BlackRock said.

Wagner's departure was the most significant of the four as it further signals the end of growth through large acquisitions for BlackRock, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

One of the original partners of the firm, Wagner joined from the Lehman Brothers mortgage department when Fink opened for business in 1988. Frequently named to published lists as one of the most powerful women in business, Wagner will join BlackRock's board of directors where she will continue to have a say on strategy, spokeswoman Bobbie Collins said.

Some BlackRock employees are worried Wagner's departure may signal bigger changes or further departures from the firm, possibly including Fink moving into a government role, according to two people familiar with the situation. One of these people, and another person familiar with the situation, said further senior-level changes are expected in the coming weeks.

"People are speculating that Sue is stepping down because Larry is going to make a move for government," said the person, who declined to be identified because he was told this in confidence. For the past several months, rumors have been circulating that Fink is a candidate for U.S. Treasury Secretary if President Barack Obama is re-elected in November.

There's also concern about how BlackRock is handling the other departures. For example, client relationship managers at BlackRock, whose job it is to assuage investors' concerns, did not have any talking points to discuss regarding the Rice situation after it became known that he would be leaving, according to one person who spoke to a client relationship manager at the firm, and declined to be identified because the conversation was confidential.   Continued...