BofA’s Ken Lewis to Step Down at Year-End

Finding himself under intense pressure since April, when shareholders voted to strip him of his role as chairman of Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), CEO Ken Lewis, who joined North Carolina National Bank — the predecessor to the current BofA — as a credit analyst in 1969, announced today he was retiring at the end of the year. The 62-year-old Mr. Lewis, who has led the Charlotte, NC-based bank since 2001, and whose reputation had been badly bruised by massive credit losses and the need for two government bailouts, notified the board of his decision Wednesday. Experts however, believe it was the intense scrutiny from state attorneys general (“Ken Lewis’ decision to step down will have no impact on our continuing investigation,” said Mario Cuomo’s office in a statement) and the courts that forced his hand.

Here is Lewis’ Farewell Letter [via Deal Journal]

To my teammates:

“As some of you may know, I always end my summer in the mountains, giving me time to reflect on the bank’s challenges and our strategies to meet them. I have always returned to the company in the fall energized and ready to get to work with all of you to meet those challenges and pursue our goals.

This year, though, has been different. This year, I returned with a strong belief that the major strategic challenges of my tenure as CEO have been met. We have built leading market positions in every major product category in our industry. We have come through the worst economic downturn in 80 years with all the tools, assets and talent we need to succeed and win. We have taken the most important steps to reduce and remove the need for government support of our company.

The next great set of challenges for our company – executing across our businesses to achieve our potential, and imagining how our company must continue to evolve to meet the changing demands of the global marketplace – are for our next chief executive officer, and for our Executive Management Team, which I know is capable of rising to any challenge. I now have a strong sense that the work that has consumed me for the past eight years is largely finished, and that it is time for a new leader to take on new challenges with all of you.

For these reasons, I informed the board today of my intention to retire at the end of the year.I am comfortable with this decision, not only personally, but also as someone who is greatly invested in Bank of America. Our board of directors and our senior management include more talent, and more diversity of talent, than at any time in this company’s history. They begin the next chapter in our company’s history with a franchise unique in the world: a bank with primacy in U.S. retail and commercial banking, global wealth management and corporate and investment banking.

I have spent a lot of time this year meeting with our customers, investors and associates around the country and around the world. They understand what we have built and what we can offer them, and their excitement about the future of this bank is contagious.

I am gratified that even some of the critics of our acquisition of Merrill Lynch have come to acknowledge how well the deal is working out for our clients, and the great potential this combination holds for our shareholders over the long-run. Looking at the range of clients covered by our financial advisors and the strong position our traders and investment bankers have in the most important markets around the world, it has become hard to imagine Bank of America without Merrill Lynch.

Certainly, this journey has been a rocky one, and not for the faint of heart, but perseverance is paying off. There is no question in my mind that our success in these businesses will continue and grow over time.

None of this is to say that our bank does not face challenges. A near double-digit unemployment rate is bad medicine for a bank that serves consumers, and I am disappointed in how we managed credit risk. The next two quarters will be difficult.

I can assure you, though, that we have devoted the resources necessary to managing credit better. We have access to credit markets on terms that reflect our strength and stability. And when the economy does return to something approaching normal, our consumer bank – with preeminent positions in deposits, homes loans and card services – will lead the industry and will be an earnings machine.

Some will suggest that I am leaving under pressure or because of questions regarding the Merrill deal. I will simply say that this was my decision, and mine alone.

Most important to me is this: I will leave knowing that almost anywhere I go in this country, I’ll be able to walk into a Bank of America banking center and receive a warm greeting. I will be able to travel the world, and visit towers full of bright, energetic associates creating financial solutions for companies of every size and shape. Everywhere I go, I will know and see that the company I had the privilege to serve for 40 years is in good hands.

When I joined this company fresh out of college in 1969, I had several offers from other very strong companies, some offering markedly better terms. I chose this company because of the culture and the people I found here. It was a group of people who believed that with trust and teamwork, anything is possible. It was a culture that rewarded hard work and enthusiasm, that allowed and encouraged people to do the right thing, that demanded leadership from its associates, and settled for nothing short of winning.

We remain that company today, because of all of you. Thank you for allowing me to lead the greatest financial services company in the world. Thank you for understanding that our customers come first, and that all our future success flows from them. Thank you for all the support you’ve given me over the years. I’m very grateful. Ken”

Bank of America said its board plans to name a successor for Mr. Lewis by the time he leaves. This sets up a struggle within the bank’s ranks to be his successor and could fuel new worries about stability at the giant bank.

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