Weill, shortly after graduating from Cornell University, got his first job on Wall Street in 1955 – as a runner for Bear Stearns. In 1956, Weill became a licensed broker at Bear Stearns. Rather than making phone calls or personal visits to solicit clients, Weill found he was far more comfortable sitting at his desk, poring through companies’ financial statements and disclosures made to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. For weeks his only client was his mother, Etta, until Joan persuaded an ex-boyfriend to open a brokerage account.
While working at Bear Stearns, Weill was a neighbor of Arthur L. Carter who was working at Lehman Brothers. Together with Roger Berlind and Peter Potoma they would form Carter, Berlind, Potoma & Weill in May 1960. In 1962 the firm became Carter, Berlind & Weill after the New York Stock Exchange brought disciplinary proceedings against Potoma.
In 1968, with the departure of Arthur Carter, the firm was renamed Cogan, Berlind, Weill & Levitt (Marshall Cogan, Arthur Levitt), or CBWL jokingly referred to on Wall Street as “Corned Beef With Lettuce”. Weill served as the firm’s Chairman from 1965 to 1984, a period in which it completed over 15 acquisitions to become the country’s second largest securities brokerage firm. The company became CBWL-Hayden, Stone, Inc. in 1970; Hayden Stone, Inc. in 1972; Shearson Hayden Stone in 1974, when it merged with Shearson Hammill & Co.; and Shearson Loeb Rhoades in 1979, when it merged with Loeb, Rhoades, Hornblower & Co.
With capital totaling 0 million, Shearson Loeb Rhoades trailed only Merrill Lynch as the securities brokerage industry’s largest firm.
In 1981, Weill sold Shearson Loeb Rhoades to American Express for about 0 million in stock. (Sources differ on the precise figure.) In 1982, he founded the National Academy Foundation with the Academy of Finance to educate students that would graduate from High School. Weill began serving as president of American Express Co. in 1983 and as chairman and CEO of American Express’s insurance subsidiary, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, in 1984. Weill was succeeded by his protégé, Peter A. Cohen, who became the youngest head of a Wall Street firm. While at American Express, Weill began grooming his newest protégé, Jamie Dimon, the future CEO of JPMorgan Chase.
Increasing tensions between Weill and the chairman of American Express, James D. Robinson III, led Weill to resign in August 1985 at age 52.
After a failed attempt to become the CEO of BankAmerica Corp. (and “take over” Merrill Lynch, according to a Jamie Dimon interview in 2002), he set his sights a little lower and persuaded Minneapolis-based Control Data Corporation to spin off a troubled subsidiary, Commercial Credit, a consumer finance company. In 1986, with million of his own money invested in the company, Weill took over as CEO of Commercial Credit. After a round of deep layoffs and reorganization, the company completed a successful IPO.
In 1987, he acquired Gulf Insurance. The next year, he paid .5 billion for Primerica, the parent company of Smith Barney and the A. L. Williams insurance company. In 1989 he acquired Drexel Burnham Lambert’s retail brokerage outlets. In 1992, he paid 2 million to buy a 27 percent share of Travelers Insurance, which had gotten into trouble because of bad real estate investments.
In 1993 he reacquired his old Shearson brokerage (now Shearson Lehman) from American Express for .2 billion. By the end of the year, he had completely taken over Travelers Corp in a billion stock deal and officially began calling his corporation Travelers Group Inc. In 1996 he added to his holdings, at a cost of billion, the property and casualty operations of Aetna Life & Casualty. In September 1997 Weill acquired Salomon Inc., the parent company of Salomon Brothers Inc. for over billion in stock.
In April 1998, Travelers Group announced an agreement to undertake the billion merger between Travelers and Citicorp, and the merger was completed on October 8, 1998. The possibility remained that the merger would run into problems connected with federal law. Ever since the Glass–Steagall Act, banking and insurance businesses had been kept separate. Weill and John S. Reed bet that Congress would soon pass legislation overturning those regulations, which Weill, Reed and a number of businesspeople considered not in their interest.
Image By WPPilot (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons