Ken Lewis, RIP

By Felix Salmon
September 30, 2009
Ken Lewis is leaving Bank of America -- and about time too. The board now has three months to find a successor; the new chairman, Walter Massey, has no real choice but to move "in a deliberate and expeditious manner" to find a replacement.

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Ken Lewis is leaving Bank of America — and about time too. The board now has three months to find a successor; the new chairman, Walter Massey, has no real choice but to move “in a deliberate and expeditious manner” to find a replacement.

The timing is intriguing, coming the day after this statement from Jamie Dimon about Bill Winters:

“Choosing between two outstanding people is the hardest part of this job. Bill is an outstanding professional. He has expressed a desire to be his own CEO and I think that is entirely reasonable.”

Would BofA choose an investment banker as its new CEO? That didn’t work out so well for Citigroup. But on the other hand, Lewis has been personally identified with Bank of America for as long as it has existed in its present form (essentially, from the day that Nationsbank acquired the legacy BofA). There’s certainly no heir apparent.

With John Thain out, the most likely successor is probably Brian Moynihan, the man who was parachuted in to save the day in the wake of Thain’s ouster. But the fact that BofA isn’t announcing a successor now is indicative of the chaos within the bank, and indicative too that Lewis’s departure isn’t entirely voluntary.

Did Massey finally get fed up with the SEC, and the New York attorney general, and Judge Jed Rakoff, and half of Congress, and a large part of the shareholder base, all calling for Lewis’s head? Maybe we’ll see when details of Lewis’s exit package emerge. My guess is that his last act as CEO will be to strong-arm the board into giving him something very generous.

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