Lewis supporters fail to mask anger at Bank of America shareholders meeting
Bank of America investors on Wednesday voted to oust Ken Lewis as chairman. He'll remain as CEO, though his future is now less certain. Shareholders had criticized the bank's purchase of Merrill Lynch and the steep stock decline that followed. WFAE's Simone Orendain reports. Even before Wednesday's B of A shareholder meeting began, a few protestors were outside the auditorium complaining about bank CEO and Chairman Ken Lewis. Stephen Lerner is with the Service Employees International Union. He says taxpayers have a stake in the bank once it received $45 billion in federal bailout money. "We own the bank, we're customers of the bank. Ken Lewis should be fired. We need to change their policies," he says. As Lerner spoke, a billboard truck circled the block with a bright red sign calling for Lewis's ouster. Lewis engineered the bank's acquisition of Merrill Lynch which had steep losses and was paying out billions in bonuses to senior Merrill executives. But when B of A's Ken Lewis walked on stage today, the leader of the country's biggest bank heard half-a-minute of applause in the packed theater of 2,100 seats. But the applause didn't mask some of the anger in the room. Charlotte real estate developer Kent Moore spoke for an Atlanta-based shareholder who called banking establishments "more dangerous than standing armies." Moore says the event looked staged. He says, "Certain people were barred from going down low and other people could go up to the balcony like we could- where there was not light, where the microphones were dead- and the agenda was strictly set where all of the comments were going to come at the end of the meeting. Well, whatdya know?" Since the Merrill Lynch deal was announced in September B of A stock has dropped by at least 75 percent. Angry shareholders at the meeting called for new leadership, new board members and splitting the chairman and CEO title but they got tepid applause. In fact, Bank of America didn't release the voting results until hours after the meeting ended. B of A retiree and shareholder Tommy Lewis --- who is not related to Ken Lewis --- said he wanted the CEO to stay at the company. "He's far and away the best man to lead the board. Far and away," he says. In what appeared to be an effort to prove he's the right leader for the bank, Ken Lewis spoke on a webcast and highlighted the acquisitions of Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch. "Today I can state without reservation that these acquisitions are not mistakes to be regretted. Both are looking more and more like successes to be celebrated," he said. But it wasn't enough to sway investors. They narrowly voted to oust Ken Lewis as chairman of Bank of America, replacing him with Walter Massey. Lewis will remain as the company CEO and the board said it wanted him to continue in that role.