Ms Picker - Natch you'll be following this one!
Merrill banker lacked leadership skills, court told
By Siobhan Kennedy
LONDON, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Stephanie Villalba, a former top Merrill Lynch banker, lost her job because she was difficult to work with, unwilling to travel and lacked the leadership skills to turn around the loss-making division she ran, a UK employment tribunal was told on Monday.
Villalba was removed in February 2003 from her position as market executive for Europe in Merrill Lynch's international private client group. She is claiming 7.5 million pounds ($13.4 million) in damages for sex discrimination, victimisation, unfair dismissal and unequal pay from Merrill.
Raymundo Yu, Villalba's former boss, told the tribunal that Merrill Lynch's European private client unit, which Villalba was responsible for, made a pretax loss of $45.8 million in 2002. He said the loss was bigger than any other region globally.
"The scale of loss in Europe cannot be explained away with reference to one-off costs and corporate allocations as Stephanie suggests," Yu told the employment tribunal in Croydon, south London.
Instead, Yu said it was Villalba's failure to connect with the firm's regional financial advisers that was "all the more critical."
Yu, who runs Merrill's private client business outside the Americas, is the first of about 22 witnesses Merrill plans to call to fight the case.
Questioned by Nicholas Underhill, counsel for Merrill Lynch, Yu said Villalba's lack of communication with the financial advisers meant that they had become demoralised and disaffected and not motivated to seek new business and bring in new money.
Last week Villalba said the losses were partly due to costs for the private client business in other regions being allocated to Europe, undermining her position by cutting profit at the business she ran. Villalba's case could set a key precedent for similar actions in London's financial services industry, traditionally dominated by men. Villalba has argued that she was treated differently in her job at Merrill because she was a woman.
RELUCTANT TO TRAVEL
Yu focused on Villalba's failure to visit Spain, a particularly troubled region, during what he called a tumultuous period at the end of 2002.
"It seemed that she would do anything but travel to Spain, including asking two of the top financial advisers in Spain to travel to London," Yu said.
Yu said Merrill might have been able to wait to see if Villalba's shortcomings improved over time, if the situation had not been so acute.
"But we did not have this luxury. We were in a big hole and we were under senior management's microscope," he said. "We urgently needed a strong leader upon whom we could rely ... to turn it around. Ultimately I concluded that we could not rely on Stephanie to fulfil this role."
Dinah Rose, counsel for Villalba, sort to portray Yu as a powerful figure within Merrill Lynch. "You are a figure who commands great respect," Rose said. "Perhaps even fear."
Rose, in her cross examination of Yu, argued that despite 23 years of service, he had never attended equal opportunities training. Yu denied this claim, saying he had received training in Asia, but could not remember when. "I don't recall," he said.
Yu disagreed with Rose's suggestion that he had come to resent Villalba for her allegations of discrimination against him. "I disagree with that," Yu replied.
Villalba, who had a 17-year career at Merrill, alleges she was paid less than male colleagues, was repeatedly humiliated by her boss and was eventually dismissed because of her sex.
Merrill has said that Villalba's removal from her market executive role was nothing to do with the fact that she was a woman, but was because she was out of her depth.
Merrill also said it had offered Villalba another job with the same status and benefits, which she had turned down.
The case continues.
Edited to note the case is being heard in Croydon, one of my old manors.
If the Merrill execs are being put up in the Holiday Inn on Purley Way.....well, it's a little different from the Savoy.
Last edited by angels; 7th Sep 2004 at 09:15.