Fleming was a long-time veteran of another Wall Street titan, Merrill Lynch & Co., and helped orchestrate the company's 2008 last-minute sale to Bank of America Corp. during the most chaotic days of the financial crisis.

He joined Morgan just last year and remains, for brokers, an unknown quantity.

Fleming's arrival is likely to have the biggest impact on the brokerage's roughly 500 branch managers and district supervisors. He and Saperstein are known as affable leaders who are very receptive to phone calls from concerned managers and brokers--and managers will be watching to see if Fleming is similarly accessible.

"He's only been with the company for a year," said a broker from the Southwest. As a manager, he said, "all of the sudden you're not plugged in. You don't know him."

Brokers were quick to point out that Fleming's new official title, unlike Johnston's, makes no explicit mention of the joint venture, describing him simply as president of global wealth management. But Morgan spokesman Wiggins said the firm sees no practical distinction between the two men's titles. "Greg's title is the same as Charlie's," he said.

The latest shift at the top of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney has rekindled chatter among brokers that Morgan Stanley will eventually drop the Smith Barney name from unit's official title, just as Morgan dropped the name Dean Witter after merging with the historic brokerage in 1997.

"A year from now, we'll probably (just) call it Morgan Stanley," the broker from the South said. "But that's a year away."

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