Banking

Former CEOs: We’re ‘bullish’ on Merrill Lynch/Bank of America merger

Bank of America’s then-CEO Ken Lewis (R) and Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain depart a press conference at Bank of America’s New York headquarters September 15, 2008 after discussing the Charlotte bank’s $50 billion takeover of Merrill Lynch.
Bank of America’s then-CEO Ken Lewis (R) and Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain depart a press conference at Bank of America’s New York headquarters September 15, 2008 after discussing the Charlotte bank’s $50 billion takeover of Merrill Lynch. Getty Images

This story originally ran in the Charlotte Observer on April 14, 2009.

From Daniel P. Tully, chairman emeritus, John L. Steffens, former vice chairman & director, and Winthrop H. Smith, Jr., former executive vice president & chairman, Merrill Lynch International:

The merger between Bank of America and Merrill Lynch has not won any popularity contests. Initial, negative reactions have only worsened as challenges for financial firms continue to grow. Pessimists may be right at a moment in time, but not over time.

As former leaders of Merrill Lynch who observed the rise of Bank of America, our perspective spans over 60 years and values the enduring strengths of two organizations. Our optimism is rooted in the recognition that what brings our companies together also sets us apart and enhances our strengths: namely, our grassroots presence, complementary businesses and our compatible cultures.

We are confident this franchise will remain resilient and that Ken Lewis and his team will achieve success. Lewis is a visionary. He sees the enormous potential earnings power by combining two franchises with the industry's best capabilities across the full range of consumer and corporate financial needs.

Great financial firms are built one client at a time. Our neighborhood banks and offices are the faces of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. They are where we build client relationships that are stronger and more successful than our competitors'. Lewis understands our shared values. Whether it is respect for the individual or inclusion; integrity or doing the right thing, our shared values are in harmony.

So we begin with a strong foundation of compatible cultures and our ability to deliver the highest quality service. When this downturn ends, we will be ready to offer the broadest range of capabilities managed in each case as a single, integrated relationship. We also can leverage synergies between businesses. For example, we serve more than a million small and medium-sized businesses where our expertise in banking and investments can add value. Merrill Lynch's wealth management franchise will also be a major contributor, and we can blend Bank of America's corporate lending and treasury services expertise with those of Merrill Lynch.

Even in these early days, we see success. In the first quarter, we were the leading provider of funding to corporate America through equity, bonds and loans.

Asia is the new center of growth and Latin America and the Middle East stand in the wings. Here, again, we can seize strategic advantage. Bank of America has been building its global presence for two decades and Merrill Lynch already has a powerful global footprint and great relationships. Our combined entity will be greater than the sum of its parts. As we magnify our investment banking and corporate financing strengths, our competitors are downsizing and becoming more like commercial banks. Some will not survive, but if we can compete on a level field, we will and grow our market share.

Our combined franchise reaches over 150 countries, represents the largest wealth management business in the world and serves more than 80 percent of the Fortune Global 500. We are continuing a long, proud heritage.

In 1940, Charlie Merrill and Win Smith, Sr., helped to revive financial markets by bringing Wall Street to Main Street. Their strategy was a catalyst in the development of modern capital markets and helped America recover from the Great Depression and World War II. The torch of leadership will now be carried and championed by Lewis and his team as they take Bank of America and Merrill Lynch to the world.

Two great leaders are poised to become a powerhouse, the number one financial franchise in the world. So, let the critics carp. We will survive stronger and better positioned to profit globally. We are bullish on this merger. We see a future where the question is not whether we can compete with anyone in the world, but whether anyone can compete with us. Always remember, ours is the only firm that does not have to compete against Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.

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