BofA’s Ken Lewis Could Actually Stay as CEO

Bank of America (BAC) chief executive Ken Lewis, who nearly two months ago announced his plans to retire from the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank at the end of the year, could actually stay on as CEO, FBN reported on Friday, citing Rochdale Securities analyst Dick Bove.

While the search for a successor to Ken Lewis continues ; no successor has yet been named. The bank is finding the succession process quite difficult since several high profile candidates, including Robert Kelly, the chairman and CEO of Bank of New York Mellon (BK), James Hance, the chairman of telecom firm Sprint Nextel (S), and William Demchak, a leading executive at Pittsburgh-based PNC (PNC), have publicly rejected the job, leading Bove to believe Lewis could succeed…himself.

“In sum, Mr. Lewis was a key architect in the creation and management of Bank of America. He knows this company better than anyone else and he knows how to operate it,” Bove wrote in a research note issued early Friday morning. “At this point in the company’s history, this is the type of leader needed. Convincing him to return would be the biggest morale builder that management could get.”

The report, notes FBN, does not suggest that Bove has any inside knowledge of the board’s thinking, only that both management and employees — 86% of whom said in a soon-to-be- published poll — favor the idea of Lewis’ return at the helm of the company.

According to Bove, the only obstacle standing in his way are the board of directors and “politicians and bureaucrats who have amply demonstrated their lack of knowledge of the company and the banking business”.

In a research report last week, Bove, an outspoken Lewis backer, said that the government was to blame for pushing Lewis out and making his job undesirable to outside candidates. “Outsiders who have credibility can see no reason to take a post where they may be hounded to be government automatons,” Bove wrote.

Tony Plath, a business professor at the University of North Carolina who follows the bank closely, told FBN that Lewis would be perfect to fill the role of interim CEO.

“I think it’s a bang up idea,” Plath said. “The board is in a really tough position here because any external candidate qualified for the job doesn’t want it. They are really struggling to find a candidate that is acceptable to all of the factions they have there.”

Bank of America, which has received $45 billion in government loans, expects to make a decision on departing CEO Ken Lewis’ replacement by Thanksgiving. The holiday is Nov. 26 this year.

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