BofA's Lewis bristles at comparison to GM's Wagoner

Charlotte ObserverApril 2, 2009 

Bank of America Corp. chief executive Ken Lewis bristled at comparisons between himself and Rick Wagoner, the ousted CEO of General Motors Corp., in a TV interview this morning.

Lewis is facing pressure from shareholders, who have watched their holdings plummet in the past year, and from taxpayers and federal regulators, who have pumped $45 billion into the Charlotte bank from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. But Lewis said there are notable differences between his bank and the struggling Detroit automaker.

"We were asked to take the (first round of) money," Lewis said in an interview on CNBC. "We didn't go hat in hand. And then the second round, that was a cooperative effort between us and the Fed and the Treasury, and all along it was said, 'We do not want to be punitive in this.'"

Bank of America and the nation's other biggest banks were basically told by the Treasury that they had to participate in TARP when it was introduced in October. Bank of America received a second helping of TARP money in January to help with its acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co. — a deal that the government strongly encouraged Lewis to follow through with.

"By the way, we made $4 billion last year," Lewis added. General Motors lost $31 billion in the same period and hasn't turned a full-year profit since 2004. The company and its financing arm have received about $19 billion in TARP money; President Obama drew the government even deeper into the auto company's affairs when he asked Wagoner to step down last week.

Still, Lewis is sure to face some resistance at the shareholders meeting in Charlotte this month. A coalition of unions is calling for his CEO job. And a Houston investment firm is leading a campaign urging shareholders to strip him of his chairman's post.

Read more at CharlotteObserver.com

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