How Ken Lewis Fired John Thain

Super Thain

It was Thursday, January 22, 2009 and Charlie Gasparino (then at CNBC) was reporting that Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis was on his way to see former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain to discuss the latter's future.

In the few weeks that the two men had been working together (since the September-announced Bank of America purchase of Merrill), Lewis had become concerned that Thain wasn't 'one of us'.

Lewis was worried about the size of Merrill's Q4 losses (net $15bn), the size of the Merrill 2008 bonus pot ($3.6bn), and the fact that Thain was away for the Christmas / New Year holidays, at a time when the losses were mounting and the bonuses looked like becoming a hot potato.

Here's how Greg Farrell's excellent Crash of the Titans has it all going down:

'Lewis arrived on the thirty-second floor at 11.30 and entered Thain's office. The two men sat down.

'I have bad news', Lewis said. 'This is not going to work out'.

'I don't understand, Ken'.

'The board blames you for the fourth quarter'.

'The losses in the fourth quarter are going to come back this quarter. They're already coming back'.

'You can never succeed me. We want you to resign. We want Brian Moynihan to replace you'.

'This doesn't make any sense'.

'This is what we decided. There's not much more to say'.

Lewis got up, shook Thain's hand and wished him the best.

'I guess I know where the leak came from', said Thain as Lewis was leaving.

'We didn't leak this'.

'Well, I didn't know why you were coming here'.'

Buy 'Crash of the Titans: Greed, Hubris, the Fall of Merrill Lynch, and the Near-Collapse of Bank of America: How the Decline and Fall of Merrill Lynch ... Nearly Destroyed America's Financial System'

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