Why Ken Lewis Left Bank of America

Battered by the press, Congress, and shareholders, the beleaguered CEO steps down as pundits assess his decline

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Ken Lewis, the star-crossed CEO of Bank of America, has resigned. Hounded for months for presiding over an ill-fated merger with Merrill Lynch, Lewis is reported to have left because attacks from all sides--from shareholders, Congress, and the press--became too much to bear.

Lewis was a merger hotshot who elevated Bank of America into the country's largest retail bank, but his reputation fell with the company's fortunes during the recession. Though there were occasional attempts to patch up his reputation--such as this article in the Atlantic--but criticism only grew stronger. In the farewells, many pundits are remembering Lewis's penchant for acquisitions, his brutal whipping by the press, and his decline from the heady early days.

  • Ruined by His Weakness for Acquisitions, argues Nomi Prins in the Daily Beast. "[W]hether through ego, arm-twisting, or some misplaced notion that everything would be okay in the end, he didn't walk away. Lewis' resignation was inevitable from the second he agreed to take on Merrill."
  • Strayed from His Conservative, 'Beancounter' Roots, writes Justin Fox at Time. Fox remembers when Lewis was renowned for his conservative approach to banking. He preferred consumer banking because it didn't entail so many risks. "That was what seemed so strange about Lewis's swashbuckling deal to buy Merrill Lynch just over a year ago. It was agreed upon quickly, without enough time for Lewis-style due diligence...I wonder if it's mainly because he strayed from his beancounter roots at and fell in love."
  • The Richard Nixon of Wall Street, argues Douglas A. McIntyre at 24/7 Wall Street. He marvels that Lewis could take the beating given by investors and the press for so long. "Lewis became the Richard Nixon of the credit crisis. In the eyes of the public he would lie or cheat whenever necessary to defend his legacy and burnish his image...Nixon once said that 'if the president does it, it can't be illegal.' Lewis thought that applied to the head of a bank that got $45 billion in loans from the taxpayers along with guarantees for $118 billion in potential losses on toxic paper that B of A put on its books on Lewis's watch."
  • Lack of Successor Shows BofA Still in Chaos, writes Felix Salmon at Seeking Alpha. "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...[T]he 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."
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