BofA Shareholder Votes Still Pending
Thousands of shareholders packed the Belk Theater uptown this morning for Bank of America's annual meeting. It lasted nearly four hours, but left nothing resolved, including the future of the bank's CEO Ken Lewis.
The bank said it needed more time to tally the votes. The big question at today's meeting was whether shareholders would boot CEO Ken Lewis from the Bank's board of directors. On that front, they were left hanging.
"I was a little surprised they didn't have a vote count," said Florida resident Frank Shy, who was among the many shareholders attending a BofA annual meeting for the first time. Shy flew in with several friends because they thought it would be interesting, given the current economy. They came away from the meeting even stronger supporters of the bank's management.
"I just think the bank's doing a lot better than what the public thinks its doing," said Shy. "And the Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Merger look like they're paying off."
That's clearly the message CEO Ken Lewis hoped to send. During a 20 minute speech, he defended the bank's recent acquisitions which some blame for a 77 percent slide in stock value over the last year. "Thus I can state without reservation these acquisitions were not mistakes to be regretted," said Lewis. "Both are looking more and more like successes to be celebrated."
Lewis also reiterated that he had no control over the nearly $4 billion in bonuses Merrill Lynch paid executives before the two firms merged.
Kent Moore was not persuaded. He attended the meeting on behalf of a shareholder in Georgia. "When you talk about this bank and what's been done, and they keep talking about 'Oh it was an economic cycle. . . ' These guys are the architects of this system that has us all on our hands and knees," said Moore.
Critics typically dominate the microphone at bank annual meetings. But today, an unusual number of supporters also spoke, including the CEO of the Charlotte Chamber and national representatives from the United Way and Habitat for Humanity. They all praised BofA's contributions to the community and urged that Lewis remain in his role as CEO and Chairman.
Dissident shareholder Jerry Finger spent $100,000 on the effort to oust Lewis. "I think it was pretty much of a hometown crowd," said Finger. "Look, I have no personal vindictive against the CEO. I think that the board ought to change directions and they need a different leadership." Finger expects Lewis will still have his board position when the Bank finally releases the results of the shareholder vote. But he also thinks there's very good chance shareholders have voted to separate the positions of Board Chairman and CEO. Similar votes at Washington Mutual and Wachovia last year were the precursor to ousting the CEOs of both banks.