Leadership by Geoff Colvin

Morgan's Mack fights the attacks

September 18, 2008: 3:04 PM ET

It feels like an earthquake on Wall Street, and Morgan Stanley's (MS) CEO is trying to stay standing. On Monday a week ago, Mack told me, "I'm not thinking about selling the firm. I'm thinking about investing in the firm in a big way." Morgan shares have fallen 58% since, and they're down 18% just today.

Wachovia (WB) CEO Bob Steel phoned Mack yesterday to talk about a possible merger, according to sources at Morgan Stanley. Speaking to employees this morning at the firm's headquarters in midtown Manhattan, Mack said that he is considering a Wachovia deal, though it may require an "innovative" structure. He told employees that he's also talking with other potential partners, including China Investment Corp., China's sovereign wealth fund, which bought 9.9% of Morgan last December. Mack also spoke with Citigroup (C) CEO Vikram Pandit this week, he said, but since there were people at both companies who were "cynical" about a combination, they mutually agreed to end their discussion.

Wachovia looks like Morgan's most likely partner. Mack and Wachovia CEO Bob Steel, both Duke University grads, know and like each other from serving on the Duke Board of Trustees together. Wachovia wouldn't be a very healthy partner, however. Bad mortgage loans, largely from its acquisition of Golden West Financial two years ago, have sunk its stock 76% in the past 12 months. (Bank of America (BAC) is down 41%, and  J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) is flat, in comparison.) But as major players have rushed to get together (BofA is buying Merrill Lynch; J.P. Morgan scooped up Bear Stearns), the remaining dance parners aren't real pretty.

This week, Mack, according to close sources, has been fuming about the fix that he and Morgan Stanley are in, particularly since the firm announced better-than-expected earnings on Tuesday. Mack blames short-sellers for spreading lies and driving down the stock prices of the investment banks. He's shared his anger with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, SEC Chairman Chris Cox, and Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Mack and Blankfein, in fact, have talked a half a dozen times in the past few days.

Meanwhile, Goldman shares have slid 43% in the past year. If the crisis continues, even Goldman, Wall Street's model firm, could be forced into some kind of merger. It's stunning to think that six months ago, there were five independent U.S. investment banks: Morgan, Goldman, Merrill, Bear, and Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy on Monday. Now there are two independent firms.

When will it end? "I wish I knew," Mack told employees this morning. As for whether Morgan Stanley can remain independent, he said, "Listen, at the end of the day, we're going to do what's in the best interest of shareholders."

Join the Conversation
Fortune's Most Powerful Women
Fortune's Most Powerful Women For the latest on the most influential women in business, philanthropy, government, and the arts, like us on Facebook.
Guest Posts
Fortune Most Powerful Women Fortune Most Powerful Women The rolodex that redefined power
Profile in The Washington Post
Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg: Don't leave before you leave
COO of Facebook
Wendy Clark Wendy Clark Exec learns firsthand how the homeless live
SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola
Video
Marissa Mayer's 3 biggest decisions as Yahoo CEO With company stock up over 100% since she began running the company 16 months ago, Mayer reflects on her choices to date. Watch
Chelsea Clinton on running for office: 'I don't know' The vice chairman of the Clinton Foundation talks about her diverse career path and growing up in the spotlight. Watch
About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

Email Pattie Sellers | Welcome to Postcards.
Follow Pattie | email newsletter
MPWomen go Global

The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

Read more

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.