"I plan to take a little time off and then figure out what to do next," Ms. Fine told Advertising Age. She will step down April 20 as a Merrill Lynch managing director and equity analyst covering advertising and publishing.
Joined in 1986
Ms. Fine joined Merrill Lynch in 1986, moved into equity research in 1988 and became lead analyst on the advertising sector in 1992. From that perch, Ms. Fine observed and analyzed both the growth of the advertising market and consolidation of agency and media companies.
One of her first calls on the advertising beat was to recommend up-and-comer Omnicom Group. Interpublic Group of Cos. was No. 1 back then, and Ms. Fine recalls that her research boss at Merrill Lynch challenged her as to why she was focusing on Omnicom when Interpublic was already the industry leader. "I was one of the first to figure out Omnicom," she said.
Good call. Omnicom grew into the world's biggest and most profitable advertising-holding company. That's reflected in its stock: $100 of Omnicom stock in 1992 would be worth $1,300 today; $100 of Interpublic shares would now be worth only about $130.
Ms. Fine gained a reputation for her meticulous research and analysis and her industry prognostications, but also for pulling no punches. She also is known for her warm, engaging personality, maintaining that demeanor even as she prodded CEOs and chief financial officers on quarterly earnings conference calls to explain what happened last quarter and what's coming next.
Far from the Street
Madison Avenue's best-known stock analyst actually worked far from the Avenue -- and The Street: She covered the ad market from her home in Cleveland, spending less than 15% of her time in New York.
Ms. Fine, 47, said she decided to retire from Merrill Lynch both to spend more time with her children and to give her time to seek a different career path. But while she would like to take some time off, Ms. Fine said she would jump back into the business world immediately if the right job presented itself. Ms. Fine has ambitions to run a media company or a media-related venture, perhaps one involving new media, advertising or marketing services.
"I'm still south enough of 50 that I felt I could make a career change without anybody looking askance at how old I was," she said.
At Merrill Lynch, longtime advertising analyst Karl Choi will take over her post. Ms. Fine has worked with Mr. Choi for 10 years. "I couldn't have done the job without him," she said, "and I know he can do the job without me."