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BRIC Inventor O’Neill Checks Out Early From Goldman Sachs

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Jim O’Neill, 55, the Goldman Sachs honcho who coined the term “BRIC” to describe the emerging-markets juggernaut of Brazil, Russia, India and China, surprised the asset management world on Tuesday with his announcement that he will retire this year.

Jim O'Neill, of BRIC fameFinishing out his career as chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, O’Neill is best known for pinpointing the BRIC phenomenon of the emerging markets, where the more powerful nations’ economies and growth strategies increasingly dominate world GDP and draw the interest of Western investors.

In a joint announcement, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein and President and COO Gary Cohn credited O’Neill with identifying revolutionary economic trends, particularly the BRIC concept.

“Jim’s BRIC thesis has challenged conventional thinking about emerging markets and, as a result, has had a significant economic and social impact,” Blankfein and Cohn said in a statement.

Tim O’Neill and Eric Lane will continue to co-head GSAM. The role of chairman was created for O’Neill when he joined the division in 2010, and there are no plans to replace him.  He has not yet given an exact date for when he will leave.

Writing about O’Neill’s retirement for the Financial Times, Stefan Wagstyl called him “a larger-than-life figure who made a big impression wherever he went, be it in the foreign exchange trading room where he started his financial career or at Manchester United, the football club he has long supported and once tried to buy.”

At this point in his early retirement, O’Neill will focus on a number of nonprofit groups with which he is already active. He is chairman and a founding trustee of the London-based educational charity SHINE and also serves on the board of Teach for All and a number of other education charities.

O’Neill may move into other more high-profile positions at some point. He was named as a potential successor for Mervyn King as governor of the Bank of England last fall, but declined to apply.

Born in 1957 near Manchester, England, O’Neill began his career at the Bank of America in 1982 and joined Goldman Sachs in 1995 as a partner, co-head of Global Economics Research and chief currency economist. Prior to joining Goldman, O’Neill was head of research, globally, for Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC) from 1991 to 1995.

In recent years, O’Neill has cut a figure as author and well-traveled commenter on the world at large. In his book “The Growth Map,” published in early 2012, he detailed his personal account of the BRIC phenomenon and noted that the BRIC countries have exceeded the expectations he had of them in 2001.

“The aggregate GDP has close to quadrupled since 2001, from around $3 trillion to between $11 and $12 trillion. The world economy has doubled in size since 2001, and a third of that growth has come from the BRICs,” he wrote.

Read Risk On or Risk Off? Goldman’s Jim O’Neill vs. Gary Shilling at AdvisorOne.