American Cancer Society to Honor John Thiel of Merrill Lynch
We live in an era when many are quick to condemn and ridicule glamorous aspects of philanthropic events in this town to perpetuate the notion that societal elite are oblivious to the times that we live in and the challenges facing the every man. Despite a focus on financial industry miscues, among the greater minds at large in the business and financial services community, there is in fact a very real sense of the interconnectedness of our lives.
The Financial Services Cares Gala to Benefit the American Cancer Society
On the eve of the upcoming Financial Services Cares Gala, I head downtown to Lower Manhattan’s World Financial Center to the office of John W. Thiel, Head of U.S. Wealth Management and the Private Banking and Investment Group for Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management. As an advocate for finding a cure for cancer, Mr. Thiel serves as chairman of the Manhattan Region Financial Services Cares Board of the American Cancer Society. He also serves as a Trustee on the Board of Florida State University’s Foundation. Thiel, along with Black Rock, the largest asset management firm in the world, will be honored at The American Cancer Society’s 7th Annual Financial Services Cares Gala on Monday, June 18, 2012 at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City. He will receive the 2012 Eugene D. O’Kelly Award. I wanted to speak to the man who rose from humble Midwestern roots to lead a distinguished career in public accounting and the insurance industry to come to lead Merrill Lynch, the very firm whose history is tied to the democratization of capitalism. History buffs will note that the founder, Charles Merrill helped bring Wall Street to Main Street allowing ordinary Americans to obtain equity stake in the industries that built this country. As goes Merrill Lynch so goes Main Street has been a truism most of my life.
When I finally met with Thiel, he played down the significance of the award personally, emphasizing instead the significance of the night, “the spotlight is on New York, and the financial services community is all here.” Expected to be in attendance are many of Thiel’s industry competitors. I wondered frankly what he thought of this, would there be tension? Despite the competition, Thiel emphasized that there is mutual respect among and for many in the industry, “it’s one night to put the gloves away and rally for the American Cancer Society.”
Thiel has arrived at his station in life through discipline, principled hard work, long term planning, centered on the fundamentals, which has given the man a strong long game not just in the investment game but in life. Thiel has lived and worked through professionally, the lessons of the economic downturns of the early 90’s, the tech bubble and the most recent financial crisis, only to emerge stronger and more well regarded in the industry and by his peers. He arrived in a post 9/11 New York City, in 2005 during a period of tremendous upheaval and uncertainty at a time we were still licking our wounds and trying to move forward, before we were rocked once again by the financial collapse of 2008. Where many others pursue pipe dreams and engage in wishful thinking in boom times, hoping only to be lucky, Thiel’s approach perhaps emanates from his years in public accounting and the memory of what it was like to be broke and to have to map pursuit of the American Dream from Ground Zero. He gets it and what the every man feels.
BULLISH ON: John Thiel’s Philanthropic Commitment
Sitting in the chief’s World Financial Center offices on a bright sunny day with the Statue of Liberty in the distance and the rising World Trade Center to his back, the revitalization of Lower Manhattan in full bloom, I found it hard not to be bullish on Mr. Thiel and Merrill Lynch. John Thiel is a centered and principled gentleman with a steady view of the world, a genuinely warm and engaging demeanor and a sincere humility that evidences the core of his character. Frankly, he is a man better than his resume or the simple summary of his life accomplishments, one who glossed over rather humbly his Horatio Alger like background to focus on what matters to him most: the eradication of cancer and specifically the never ending work of the American Cancer Society. Thiel has motivated those in the orbit of his life to commit ‘to create a world with less cancer and more birthdays.’ A year since my mom passed at the Hope Hospice in Cape Coral, Florida, and there is nothing I would do to celebrate one more birthday with her. Thiel’s fight is not simply good business, the right thing to do or even noble; it is simply personal to him and that is what matters most.
Thiel is a man who has progressed because he seems possessed of the same steely determination and optimism of folks like Larry Silverstein who forged beyond the hassles of rebuilding and those who questioned whether it could be done and done better, to convert many former and existing opponents of the rebuilding process, who saw a reinstallation of the former Twin Towers as the only conceivable alternative. I know because I was one of them. And though I deeply respect the work of the Twin Towers Alliance and hoped myself to see a version of the iconic Twin Towers rise again, I must acknowledge that in my heart, as is being documented by Project Rebirth, I do believe Lower Manhattan is finally rising in a manner that we can be proud.
Perhaps in the end, the best leaders don’t simply pander to the average man’s sentiments but help us all to evolve by guiding us with their leadership. Thiel is a man with both the character and poise to lead the rise of the financial community from a troubling era where capitalists, community and political leaders and average citizens all point the finger of blame at one another, to a new dawn and a more prosperous tomorrow. Sometimes the best New Yorker’s arrive here from….. some place else. With all due respect to Julie Menin, John Thiel, is also one of the reason’s Wall Street [is] Rising.
Thiel is one of many untold stories in this great metropolis that put better in context how, during a time of turmoil and flatter profit margins, an abiding humanity underlies the commitment of business leaders to sustain and fortify a modern society by keeping many philanthropic and cultural institutions in the black. From the illumination, education and cultural enlightenment of our children, to providing opportunity and upward mobility, critical health care and other transitional services to members of our community in need, the work of philanthropically inclined citizens in the financial sector, like John Thiel, forges onward in the occupy humanity movement.