Raymundo Yu, the sequel

Check Low resigns as Merrill''s Asia chairman; Raymundo Yu returns.

Raymundo Yu must feel that the chairmanship of Merrill's Asia business is something of a boomerang. For having tossed it away last May, he has been given the role again in less than a year. The move comes as Merrill's Check Low steps down as chairman to pursue other interests.

Low's departure was not entirely unexpected. Speculation had mounted about the move late last year when Kevan Watts was promoted to run Asia and Europe, with a chairman designation also. With Watts being made chairman of the Pacific Rim (ie Asia), it immediately raised questions about Low's own Asian chairmanship.

Historically, business organizations have had only one chairman - if for no other reason, than that the chairman's role has classically been defined as the person having the casting vote. By definition, two people can't have casting votes. Thus, the re-appointment of Yu as chairman of Asia is equally interesting in the purely hierarchical sense. One thing is clear - there have been so many changes at Merrill since Stanley O'Neal took over that it is often difficult to keep track of them.

Yu is a case in point.

Last May Yu gave up the chairmanship of Asia to take on the bigger role of head of international private client global markets. This was a natural promotion as he had worked in the Asian private client business - the division that deals with high net worth individuals - for the better part of his career, and was named that group's chairman in May 2000. His new role running all international private client business was to see him split his time between London and Singapore. However, only months after he had been given this role, another shake up in December saw the creation of a 'global' private client group and the abolition of the 'international' group headed by Yu.

It appears that he then regained the title head of the Asian private client group - a title which he had ceded to Francis Chan only months before. In the midst of such whirlwind changes, it is hard to gauge the significance of Yu becoming the chairman of the overall Asian business once again.

More to the point whether this is the last of the senior organizational changes in Merrill's Asian business is the bigger and as yet unanswered question. Back in December, Watts indicated a new belief in sole heads rather than co-heads with the statement that the new reorganization created "a cleaner and more straightforward approach rather than having co-heads all over the place."

Asia remains one of the few places in the Merrill world where co-heads still exist, with Aj Rahman and Sam Poon both being co-heads of investment banking.

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