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James Gorman's fast rise

James Gorman has had many careers. He was a lawyer in his native Australia. Then he worked as a consultant for retail securities practices at McKinsey in New York.

Last month he became the head of Merrill Lynch's massive U.S. private client business.

"I always knew I liked this business best," he says.

His new job won't be easy. The retail brokerage business, like the rest of the financial services industry, has taken a beating lately. Retail investors panicked when the dot-com bubble burst; now the economy has been thrown into a tailspin by September's terrorist attacks.

"Clients are seeing as much volatility as they have seen in 20 years," says Gorman, 43. The advice Merrill is giving? "Innovation and entrepreneurialism in the United States do not get squashed because of one incident," Gorman says. "This is an overwhelming human tragedy, not a financial tragedy."

Gorman started at Merrill in 1999 as chief marketing officer. Less than a year later, he was promoted to a senior post in Merrill's U.S. private client division, where he managed the 15,000-member advisory force and reported directly to Stan O'Neal, who led the division at the time. In July O'Neal was named president and chief operating officer.

Gorman's promotion comes at a time when Merrill's top management is in flux. Early this month Winthrop Smith, who headed the international private client area, was replaced by G. Kelly Martin, former head of global debt markets. Thomas Davis moved from the helm of the corporate and institutional client group to head Merrill's private equity business. Jeffrey Peek, the head of asset management, left the firm last month.