Ken Lewis was “halfway” ousted from Bank of America, said Felix Salmon in Reuters, when shareholders voted Wednesday to remove him as chairman but keep him on as CEO. The board can dump him if it chooses, and “I doubt Lewis will stay in charge long.” Nor should he, after his “ridiculous” speech to shareholders, defending “with a straight face” his disastrous acquisition of Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch.
If shareholders want to blame someone for the Merrill Lynch deal, said The Washington Times in an editorial, they should look to Washington. Then–Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson “coerced” Lewis into the “shotgun merger,” threatening to fire him and the board if they tried to pull out after learning of Merrill’s $15 billion quarterly loss.
Despite the “torrent of criticism” of the deal, and Lewis’ leadership generally, said Tom Petruno in the Los Angeles Times, the shareholders may just be following a growing trend to split the CEO and chairman roles, as a “check on the CEO’s power.” Still, Lewis should be worried—Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo shareholders just quashed similar proposals.