Lewis Named Banker of Year

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Kenneth D. Lewis, the chairman, president, and chief executive of Bank of America Corp., has been selected to receive American Banker's 2008 Banker of the Year Award.

Mr. Lewis has been at B of A's helm since April 2001, first overseeing the successful integration and BankAmerica Corp. in a role that earned the paper's top honor in 2003.

This year he has shown that it is possible to obtain the banking industry's highest honor again. He became the first person to win the award twice by emerging as a crucial force of stability in the middle of tumultuous financial markets and an economy that many feel has entered what could be a prolonged recession.

He has expanded beyond B of A's dominance in retail banking to grow in other areas as competitors have faltered. In January, it agreed to buy Countrywide Financial Corp., quickly becoming the nation's largest mortgage lender and putting the Charlotte company at the forefront of the debate over how to address mounting issues in the housing market.

B of A vowed to eliminate Countrywide's most controversial lending practices, and it is working to modify mortgages for about 400,000 of its borrowers.

As credit markets seized again late this summer, Mr. Lewis passed on buying a distressed Lehman Brothers and instead fielded a Sept. 13 call from John Thain, the chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. Mr. Lewis rejected an initial entreaty to buy a minority stake in the New York investment bank; instead, he signed a deal to buy the entire company.

When asked about the deal the man who infamously said in October of last year that "I've had all the fun I can stand in investment banking" before purging the business gave a simple response: "I like it again."

The deal, set to close this quarter, would make B of A the world's biggest brokerage firm, with more than 20,000 advisers and $2.5 trillion of client assets.

Mr. Lewis has raised his public policy profile in recent years, advocating for more streamlined bank regulation and a loosening of the statutory cap on domestic deposits while taking a risky stance by extending credit to those who lacked Social Security numbers.

His visibility has increased as the financial environment has become more perilous. In early July he advocated for a "measured" governmental response to mounting industry problems, and he gained the ear of critical regulators as conditions worsened.

Mr. Lewis was an active participant this month when the Treasury Department gathered nine of the nation's most prominent financial executives in a room to hammer out a plan for the government to inject $125 billion of capital in the companies to free up the credit markets. Though he was admittedly "stunned" by the sheer size of the government's involvement, Mr. Lewis forcefully supported the plan in a "60 Minutes" interview, calling it "the right thing for the American financial system."

He will be one of six industry leaders saluted at the Banker of the Year Awards gala Dec. 4 at the Plaza Hotel in New York. American Banker has announced that Jerry A. Grundhofer, the chairman emeritus at U.S. Bancorp, will receive the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award.

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