Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beginning of the End for Ken Lewis

Next week, on April 29th, Bank of America (BAC) will hold its annual meeting. An issue which will come to a head there in a shareholder vote is whether Ken Lewis should retain the two roles of Chair and CEO.

Longtime BAC shareholder Jerry Finger (who sold his bank to NationsBanK in 1996) put the issue on the proxy and is right to call for change, given the bank's disastrous performance in the last 12 months.

Late last week, we learned the 3 largest and most influential proxy advisory firms (RiskMetrics, Glass Lewis and ProxyGovernance) all threw their support behind the splitting of these roles. This means it's virtually assured that the split will happen, given how closely large institutions and pension funds follow these suggestions from the advisory firms.

In my view, this stripping of Lewis' Chair role makes it more likely that Lewis will also step down as the bank's CEO in the next year. He's already dropped hints that he is open to doing so "when the crisis passes" -- that's CEO-speak for "Ok, I'm getting tired of the abuse I'm taking."

If BAC really wants to show shareholders (including the government) that it's turning the page, a change at the top is probably best for everyone.

Originally published in on 4/20/2009 9:01 AM EDT

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