Benjamin Edwards III, retired chief executive of A.G. Edwards, questioned and commented on the $6.8 billion deal with Wachovia Corp. Thursday at a shareholder meeting, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.   Edwards, who retired in 2001, called the merger “devastating news” and said his heart goes out to the Wachovia and Edwards employees who will lose their jobs when the firms merge.    “We wonder if being number two is worth thousands of careers,” he said. Wachovia Securities is moving its operations to St. Louis from Richmond, Va., and once the merger is complete, it will be the nation’s second-largest brokerage firm, with 15,000 brokers.   Robert Bagby, A.G. Edwards’ chairman and chief executive, said after the meeting that he wasn’t surprised by Edwards’ speech because he knew he was opposed to the deal.   The merger “is a huge opportunity for the city and for A.G. Edwards. It’s a huge opportunity for our clients to move forward,” said Bagby. It “puts us in a position to never be a target again.”   In his speech, Edwards questioned whether the company’s values will endure after the merger.   “We thought we had built something special, a company that puts clients first, employees second and shareholders third,” he said. Later adding, “I believed we had the people, the client base, the physical plant the capital and the operating ethic to give us another exciting and enjoyable 120 years.”   Edwards also said A.G. Edwards’ employees “feel lied to and betrayed.” He urged the company to preserve Edwards’ branch network and to resist the urge to close any branches over the objections of a branch manager. If the company does that, he said, it risks losing the manager and the brokers at that branch.   The staff of Money Management Executive ("MME") has prepared these capsule summaries based on reports published by the news sources to which they are attributed. Those news sources are not associated with MME, and have not prepared, sponsored, endorsed, or approved these summaries.    

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