Hail to the Chief

It was bound to happen sooner or later… Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, has announced that he will retire at the end of the year.

I’m not exactly shocked, but I will admit that I didn’t think it would happen so soon. He has said for awhile now that he plans to stay on until the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds were paid back to the federal government, but apparently he’s decided to kick his retirement schedule up a notch.

There will certainly be rampant speculation about the reasons for this shortened timeline. Ken has come under a lot of heat lately over the handling of the Merrill Lynch acquisition last year, and whether he and the senior leadership at the bank failed to disclose information about losses at Merrill before shareholders voted in favor of the deal. Congress has been subpoenaing witnesses, there are threats of civil charges, etc etc.

Some will say that his abrupt announcement is an attempt to sidestep those issues, but frankly, I don’t think that will really save him from much of the backlash (if there is any.) New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has already gone on record as saying that Lewis’s retirement “will have no impact” on the investigation against the bank in general and him in particular.

Still, despite all of the recent controversy, I have to say that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ken Lewis. He’s done a lot for this company, and for the country at a time when the government needs partnership with giant companies to keep the economy above water. His acquisition of Countrywide during the mortgage crisis, and Merrill Lynch during the financial meltdown that followed, is proving to be a great move for shareholders and citizens alike. (Unless you’re an employee that was laid off as a result, and then, it sucks.)

Bottom line: Ken Lewis has led Bank of America through incredible growth since he took the helm in 2001. The bank has acquired several leading players in the private wealth management, credit card, mortgage, investment, and retail banking center field. He’s the only person to ever win American Banker’s “Banker of the Year” award twice, and was one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2007. He’s done a lot for the Bank of America, the company that lets me put food on the table (and blogs on the Internet) and I’m grateful.

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