NEW YORK, Nov 20 (Reuters) - One day after Stifel Financial Corp Chief Executive Ron Kruszewski said the St. Louis investment bank has lagged in recruiting brokers to its Stifel, Nicolaus brokerage unit, the company hired John Van Donge from Merrill Lynch Wealth Management to run a new branch office in Santa Barbara, California.
Van Donge, a 17-year Merrill veteran, had been managing director and resident director of the brokerage company's branch in Century City, California, where he worked with clients with more than $600 million in assets. At Stifel, he is one of four founding partners of a national team that includes former Merrill brokers and managers Michael Sullivan and Michael O'Keeffe in New York and Josh Bledsoe in St. Louis. They joined Stifel in late 2013.
In a phone interview on his first day at Stifel, Van Donge said he has been weighing a move for more than a year and was not unduly concerned about the cultural changes at Merrill since it was bought by Bank of America in 2009.
"There's a lot of great things the bank brought to Merrill," he said, noting that he is a prolific seller of loans. "But it's easier to give objective advice at a pure investment firm like Stifel that incidentally owns a bank than to work a firm that is owned by a bank."
Joining Van Donge in Santa Barbara are Marie Aardeman, his client service associate at Merrill, and Greg Sain, a broker who is joining him from a nearby Stifel office.
Prior to joining Merrill in 1997, Van Donge worked at Dean Witter Reynolds and PaineWebber.
Stifel last month hired former Merrill brokers Stephen S. Brown and James P. Goetz in Rochester, New York. Merrill fired the pair, who managed about $2.5 billion within its Private Banking Investing Group, for trying to persuade some clients to invest in an outside venture one of them owned, a Merrill official has said. The brokers' lawyer said they were wrongfully terminated and were considering suing Merrill. (Reporting by Jed Horowitz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)