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What Sheila Bair Really Thinks of Big Bank Execs

(Image: Bloomberg News)

On Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, Bair said: "Frankly, I doubted that he was up to the job. He had been brought in to clean up the mess at Citi… I thought Pandit had been a poor choice. He was a hedge fund manager by occupation and one with a mixed record at that. He had no experience as a commercial banker, yet now he was heading one of the biggest banks in the country." (Image: Bloomberg News)

Bair described the views other bank CEOs had of Ken Lewis, the then leader of Bank of America. Bair said Lewis "never really fit in with this crowd. He was viewed somewhat as a country bumpkin by the CEOs of the big New York banks, and not completely without justification. He was a decent traditional banker, but as a dealmaker his skills were clearly wanting." (Image: Bloomberg News)

Bair thought highly of Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, describing him as the "smartest" executive in the room. "Dimon was a towering figure in height as well as leadership ability. He had forewarned of deteriorating conditions in the subprime market in 2006 and had taken preemptive measures to protect his bank before the crisis hit. As a consequence, while other institutions were reeling, mighty J.P. Morgan Chase had scooped up weaker institutions at bargain prices," she wrote. (Image: Bloomberg News)

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Bair describes Richard Kovacevich, the then CEO of Wells Fargo, as eager to discuss the bank's acquisition of failing Wachovia. "Kovacevich could be rude and abrupt, but he and his bank were very good at managing their business and executing on deals." (Image: Bloomberg News)

Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, had a "puckish charm and quick wit" that "belied a reputation for tough, if not ruthless, business acumen," Bair wrote. (Image: Bloomberg News)

Tellingly, Bair describes John Thain, the last CEO of Merrill Lynch, as standing outside the perimeter of a conversation between Dimon and Blankfein "trying to listen in." She also criticizes him for immediately asking about potential restrictions on executive compensation if banks accepted Tarp money. "I couldn't believe it. Where were the guy's priorities?" she wondered. (Image: Bloomberg News)

Former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair was always known for speaking her mind, even when she ran the agency from 2006 to 2011. But in her new book "Bull by the Horns," an excerpt of which was featured on Fortune last week, Bair offers a very candid commentary about what she actually thought of the executives running the nation's largest banks during the financial crisis. Following is a small sampling of those views, based on the excerpt, which detailed the fateful meeting in 2008 when the Treasury Department forced the largest banks to accept $25 billion in capital.

 

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