Thain, Lewis part ways

January 22, 2009

Thain and LewisJohn Thain’s out of the door as well. And one wonders if Ken Lewis could have saved himself a lot of heartache if only he had watched the action movie “Speed”.  

Sandra Bullock called it more than a decade ago. As her character says in the movie: You know, relationships that start under intense circumstances — they never last.

Thain’s departure leaves Lewis without several top executives at Merrill, which it acquired on Jan. 1 for $19.4 billion. Other top Merrill executives to recently leave include Robert McCann, who was to lead the combined brokerage, and investment banking chief Greg Fleming.

The acquisition has cost Bank of America dearly. It said Merrill lost $15.31 billion in the fourth quarter, separate from its own $1.79 billion quarterly loss — its first in 17 years.

Just a week ago, Lewis told investors he was happy that Thain was staying on. But the situation changed rapidly.

“Ken Lewis flew to New York today, met with John Thain, and it was mutually agreed that his situation was not working out, and he would resign,” Bank of America spokesman Robert Stickler said.

Thain’s departure came as CNBC separately reported the former Merrill chief had hired well-known Los Angeles interior designer Michael Smith to redecorate his office a year ago. CNBC said Thain ran up a bill of $1.22 million that included $35,115 for a “commode on legs” and $1,405 for a parchment waste can.

“John Thain saved Merrill Lynch. Crucify him if you must, but he sold Ken Lewis a bill of goods, and Ken Lewis bought it. He saved Merrill and took care of his boys on his way out,” said Smith Asset Management CEO William Smith.

(Photo: John Thain (L) looks up as Ken Lewis speaks during a news conference announcing the Bank of America Corporation acquisition of Merril Lynch in New York September 15, 2008. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

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