Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Ken Lewis earthquake

It is very rare to see the stockholders of a corporation the size of Bank of America despose the chairman of the board thereof, in the way that they deposed Ken Lewis on Wednesday.

Lewis gets to keep his other post, as the company's chief executive. And for that matter he gets to keep a seat on the board, though it will now be chaired by Walter E. Massey.

But the damage that an earthquake does, it does not do all at once. Sometimes an earthquake makes such severe cracks in a building that it will fall, or it will have to be demolished, in the coming days or weeks. And the shareholders meeting may well have undermined Lewis' ability to stay on with any credibility or leadership ability.

Last year, Wachovia's chairman/CEO, Ken Thompson, lost both of those posts, and the bank over which Thompson onbce presided has since been sold to Wells Fargo.

One source of the anger at Lewis at the Bank of America meeting was B of A's recent purchase of Merrill Lynch, a purchase engineered by the US government, and widely seen as a bottom-line mess for the acquirer. But Merrill Lynch was one of those "too big to fail" entities that the government decided to fold into another -- and B of A got the nod.

One shareholder at the meeting, Judith Koenick, addressed Leiws, "I find it incredible you didn't have the guts to stand up to the government."

That's the kind of talk I like to hear. The heads of private companies should catch more flack from shareholder ranks for failing to stand up to public-sector pressures. We need these counter-vailing pressures.

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