October 1, 2009

Who will be next to lead Bank of America?

Who's next? That's the big question following news Wednesday that Ken Lewis is stepping down as Bank of America's chief executive.

Who's next?

That's the big question following news Wednesday that Ken Lewis is stepping down as Bank of America's chief executive.

The choice of who will lead the nation's largest bank affects the future of shareholders, customers around the world and more than 280,000 employees. Charlotte's status as a financial center and the bank's headquarters city is also on the line.

Board chairman Walter Massey said that directors are working to choose a "worthy successor," but he provided no specifics. Spokesman Bob Stickler named six potential internal candidates, including consumer bank head Brian Moynihan, who has been seen by analysts and insiders as the leading contender.

Moynihan, 49, a lawyer, took charge of most of Merrill Lynch's operations in January, shortly after the bank bought the brokerage giant and following the ugly departure of Merrill's former chief executive John Thain.

Moynihan has had high-profile assignments since joining the bank in 2004 as part of the FleetBoston acquisition. He has run wealth management and investment banking businesses, but his resume lacks time at signature Wall Street firms.

He lives in Boston, fueling concerns that as the top boss he would have little allegiance to Charlotte. He has an office at One Bryant Park in New York and also works out of Charlotte and other cities.

Dick Bove, an analyst at Rochdale Securities, has covered the bank for years and hopes the new chief will be an insider.

"If you take a company that is extraordinarily successful and bring in an outsider, you're going to weaken the culture and the organization," he said.

Richard Perkey, who handles executive searches for Russell Reynolds Associates, said the CEO role at a financial services company is about the ability to manage capital and risk, not necessarily every aspect of the business. "This is definitely special and unique because of (Bank of America's) dimension," he said.

The other five named internal candidates are:

Strategy executive Greg Curl began his banking career in 1974 in St. Louis with Boatmen's Bancshares, which Bank of America bought in 1997.

Home loans executive Barbara Desoer joined the bank in 1977. She was tapped last year to head the mortgage business, including integrating the much-maligned subprime lender Countrywide Financial, acquired last year.

New wealth management head Sallie Krawcheck, hired in August, is a former top Citigroup executive who grew up in Charleston and graduated from UNC Chapel Hill.

Corporate and investment banking head Tom Montag was with Goldman Sachs for 22 years prior to joining Merrill in 2008.

Chief financial officer Joe Price joined the bank in 1992.

Other names mentioned as possible successors:

Charlotte native David Darnell, a 30-year veteran who heads commercial banking.

Al de Molina, former chief financial officer who left in 2006 after 17 years with the bank. He is now chief executive of GMAC Financial Services. De Molina declined to comment.

Jim Hance, longtime chief financial officer, who retired in 2005. Hance, one of Charlotte's most influential bankers and community players, scouted some of the bank's biggest mergers for Lewis and his predecessor Hugh McColl Jr. Hance, who could not be reached, was a former rival for the CEO job with Lewis.

Charlie Scharf, CEO of Retail Financial Services at JPMorgan Chase. The bank declined comment.

Durham native Bob Steel, who briefly served as CEO of Wachovia following last year's ouster of Ken Thompson. He stepped down following the sale to Wells Fargo. The former Goldman Sachs vice chairman also served as a high-level U.S. Treasury Department official. He could not be reached.

Staff writers Rick Rothacker and Christina Rexrode contributed.

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