On Hugh McColl Jr.'s last day as Bank of America chief executive in 2001, the departing leader tipped his cowboy hat to a throng of applauding employees. When his successor, Ken Lewis, steps down today, he might not even come into the office.
It's perhaps a fitting finale for a CEO who was known more as a quiet, driven operator than a flamboyant dealmaker. But it's also a symbolic coda to a turbulent year that cut Lewis' 40-year career at the bank shorter than once expected.
Lewis leaves with a mixed legacy. The stock is down 45 percent over his nearly nine years as CEO. Long-time bank analyst and Lewis critic Tom Brown of Bankstocks.com last month called Lewis an "egomaniacal, size-obsessed, value-destroying CEO." But others such as Miami-based banking consultant Ken Thomas say the CEO can leave with his head held high, especially considering the travails that wracked the banking industry in recent years.
Lewis, 62, announced plans on Sept. 30 to step down, beleaguered by the fallout from his decision last year to purchase Merrill Lynch. After a nearly three-month search, the bank's board settled on an internal candidate to replace him: consumer banking head Brian Moynihan. Officially, Moynihan takes charge New Year's Day. "For all intents and purposes, he's already started," Bank of America spokesman Bob Stickler said Monday.
Stickler said senior executives typically take vacation time around the holidays, and it's likely Lewis won't be in the office on his last day. Lewis didn't want a party and hasn't disclosed any retirement plans. He'll likely spend more time with grandchildren and enjoy mountain vacation homes, Stickler said.
Lewis' farewell appearances came earlier this month before a Charlotte Chamber audience and at a town hall meeting for Bank of America employees, which was held to introduce Moynihan. Lewis received standing ovations both times. At the employee meeting, the incoming CEO praised Lewis' goal of creating the world's most admired company. "We have an obligation to fulfill that mission for Ken," Moynihan said.
In his time as CEO, Lewis gained respect as an intelligent banker, introducing the Six Sigma management strategy and a Disney-influenced employee spirit program. He nurtured the bank into the nation's biggest by assets, adding mortgage, credit card and capital markets operations to a giant retail bank. And he cleaned up one major issue for his successor when he reached a deal this month to pay back $45 billion in government aid.
He was twice named Banker of the Year by the American Banker trade publication – during his first year and again in 2008. In 2007, he made Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people.
But he also made enemies who didn't like how he laid off thousands of workers or his sometimes-brusque demeanor. And shareholders have suffered: The stock closed Wednesday at $15.07, down 45 percent from $27.45 on his first day as CEO, April 25, 2001. This year, the once-lucrative dividend was slashed to a penny.
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