Stan O'Neal

by Kathy Crockett
The My Hero Project

Stan O'Neal ((Stan O'Neal/Merrill Lynch))
Stan O'Neal ((Stan O'Neal/Merrill Lynch))

As Chairman, President, and CEO of one of the world's leading financial management and advisory firms, Stan O'Neal is one of Wall Street’s most influential executives, and the first African-American to hold a top position on the Street. He is known, not simply for turning around the trillion-dollar Merrill Lynch, which was floundering toward bankruptcy when he took the helm, but for his extraordinary leadership and integrity--qualities in great demand and short supply these days,

O’Neal's route to the top has been a steady but steep climb, from picking corn and cotton in the fields of Alabama, to working as foreman on the graveyard shift at a GM plant, to the top position at Merrill Lynch. He was born in 1951, the grandson of a former slave who started a one-room schoolhouse for the residents of the rural farming community of Wedowee. Stan attended the school that his grandfather founded until his family moved to Atlanta, Georgia when he was 13 years old. Once in Atlanta, Stan found more opportunities for a better education, but also found much discrimination and new obstacles.

In an interview with My Hero, he talked about the challenges that discrimination brought to his teenage years, and shaped his life: "No obstacles have been as great in my life as when I started out my life and was told that I couldn’t go to certain stores, I couldn’t go sit in certain places in the theater, I couldn’t drink out of certain water fountains. There was intimidation that was ever-present in terms of voting rights, expression of simple emotions or where you walk, where you lived, how you looked at people, how you talked to them. There is nothing in my life that has compared to the feelings of being a young child with no money in that kind of environment and being on the wrong side of the color line."

Despite barriers and intimidation, O'Neal carved out a path for himself. Although his family valued education, they had little money, but he didn't let his family's financial situation or the ever-present discrimination stand in the way; he found a way to go to college. He attended the General Motors Institute (now called Kettering University), and worked for General Motors to pay for a good education. While working at the GM plant, Stan had his first exposure to various aspects of business, which, in turn, inspired him to pursue a graduate degree in finance at Harvard. With hard work and perseverance--and a strong education--he made his way to the top tier at Merrill Lynch.

Stan O'Neal credits his education for his successes in the business world and is working to offer opportunities to young people. He stands as a role model for many disadvantaged kids. In New York, Stan is on the advisory board of The Bronx Preparatory Charter School, which is committed to challenging students in grades 5 to 12 to achieve at high levels and move on to higher education. He has helped raise money to build state of the art facilities so that these students can have opportunities to realize their dreams, and see positive results in their own lives. The students in this newly established school are thriving.

From his commitment to young people and their educations to his incredible success at Merrill Lynch, Stan O'Neal delivers a shining example of the wonderful opportunities that emerge from hard work, perseverance, a good education, and maybe a bit of luck.

Page created on 1/19/2008 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/19/2008 12:00:00 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

A Long Road of Learning - - Harvard Business School alumni profile
Stan O'Neal - - Merrill Lynch Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer and President

Extra Info


Stan O'Neal is also featured in the book, My Hero, as he writes
about his hero and grandfather James Isom

For a limited time, you can read his story by clicking here.

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