The master who teaches the Merrill herd to graze on wheatgrass and chia

Sun Nov 9, 2014 8:41am EST
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By Peter Rudegeair and Lauren Tara LaCapra

NEW YORK (Reuters) - At a retreat for Merrill Lynch financial advisers in a luxury Orlando hotel last month, a group of several dozen men and women in business attire swung their arms back and forth over their heads to Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" to get their circulation going.

The mild aerobics were part of a three-day event orchestrated by Chris Johnson, a wellness guru who has gained influence under John Thiel's leadership of Bank of America's Merrill Lynch wealth management business.

    At Thiel's instruction, Johnson has for the last year been traveling the country teaching Merrill Lynch advisers how to lead healthier lives. He urges brokers - and, in some cases, their family members and clients - to include liver oil, wheatgrass, flax, chia and a type of algae called spirulina in their diets, and to take relaxing baths with Epsom salt to unwind.

    "They're starting to go down the medication path. They have acid reflux. They don't sleep. They feel crummy. They're drinking too much. They gain too much weight," Johnson said of the Merrill employees who most need his advice. With that lifestyle, he said, "they're not going to be a good adviser. If I'm coming to my adviser, I want them to be healthy."

    Thiel did not respond to requests for comment. David Walker, a spokesman for Bank of America's wealth management business, said that it was important for Merrill to focus on the health and wellness of its employees.

    "We care that our advisers are taking care of themselves so they have the energy and capacity to best serve their clients and be present for their families," he said. "Any company that is not focused on wellness is behind. All of the most admired, most progressive companies with the most highly engaged employees are focused in this area."

He declined to comment on Johnson's description of health problems suffered by some members of Merrill's workforce.


A Merrill Lynch building is shown in downtown San Diego, California March 18, 2014.
 REUTERS/Mike Blake