Lewis ousted as Bank of America chairman

 

Bank of America shareholders voted to oust chief executive Kenneth Lewis as chairman of the board last night after months of mounting criticism of his stewardship of the largest US bank.

The bank's board "unanimously" expressed support for Lewis to stay in the CEO post despite the fact that shareholders "narrowly" approved a proposal to require an independent chairman.

Lewis, who will remain chief executive, will be replaced in the chairman post by Walter Massey, a director of the bank's board since 1998 and also a director of McDonald's.

“We knew that it was going to be close, but this is an unambiguous vote of no confidence,” said Campbell Harvey, professor of finance at Duke University.

“Whether he chooses to remain as CEO or not, the dominant influence that he had at Bank of America is now a thing of the past,” Mr Harvey said.

The proposal to name an independent chairman was one of eight shareholder proposals that went to the vote at the four-hour annual meeting, held in uptown Charlotte.

A similar proposal won 36 per cent support last year, the bank said.

Many corporate governance experts favor splitting the posts of chairman and CEO. Citigroup Inc and Wells Fargo & Co are among banks that have divided the roles.

Last year, however, such a split was a precursor to the ouster of the chief executives of two large banks - Ken Thompson at Wachovia Corp and Kerry Killinger at Washington Mutual. Wachovia was later bought by Wells Fargo, while Washington Mutual failed.

“It's kind of the first step toward the end for Lewis,” said Ralph Cole, portfolio manager, at Ferguson Wellman Capital Management in Portland, Oregon. “It shows there's at least some constituency that's not happy with his performance. I just don't think he's going to last,” Cole said.

About 2,000 people attended the annual meeting, more than triple the year-earlier number, reflecting how the bank's shareholders are torn over the man responsible for much of Bank of America's growth, as well as its current troubles.

Reuters