Bank of America president Kenneth D. Lewis, who for about a year has been managing the companys day-to-day operations, may be just days away from taking on the chief executive post and from leading a makeover of the organizations image.
Its a job he has already begun in earnest.
Reports over the weekend that Hugh McColl Jr., 65, plans to announce he will retire a year ahead of schedule as chief executive when Bank of Americas board of directors meets on Wednesday led many to conclude that Mr. Lewis would get the nod of both Mr. McColl and the board as the successor.
Mr. Lewis has been running the Charlotte, N.C., companys day-to-day operations since early 2000, said Chip Dickson, an analyst at Lehman Brothers. He is well respected in the organization, Mr. Dickson said. Mr. Lewis has a clear idea of where he wants to go and what his task is. He hasnt had the baton, but now he does. This is a natural progression.
In ascending to the CEO spot, Mr. Lewis, 53, would be leading a company whose profits have flagged, falling 27% in the fourth quarter, mainly because of an increase in problem loans. The company, the product of a series of mergers, the biggest of which was the 1998 joining of NationsBank and BankAmerica that Mr. McColl oversaw, is now looking for efficiencies and has already announced plans to slash thousands of jobs. At the same time, complaints about customer service have mounted.
The company declined to comment on reports of the change at the top, which was first reported in The Charlotte Observer. But in recent comments, Mr. Lewis himself has signaled a progression of change at B of A and alluded to the obstacles it faces as it seeks to right itself.
Last week Mr. Lewis appointed two nonbank executives to key posts, hiring Charles P. Goslee, a former Eastman Kodak Co. executive, and John Quinn, formerly of FedEx Corp.
In an interview with Dow Jones after those hirings, Mr. Lewis pointed to a need for new approaches. We plan on being one of the worlds great companies, he said. To do that you have to bring in outside perspective. We need to challenge our current thinking.
Mr. Goslee, who was chief quality officer at Kodak, was named to a newly created position of quality and productivity executive. He will be responsible for integrating efforts to upgrade customer satisfaction and boosting revenues through customer relationship growth.
Mr. Quinn was named transaction services executive. His chief duties will include improving the check-processing business, and he will lead more than 15,000 associates in 18 states.
Mr. Lewis said it is crucial to make clear that the bank is becoming more customer-oriented than acquisition-oriented.
I think it will send a strong signal both internally and externally that were undergoing a serious transformation, he said. We want to grow by being a much more customer-centric company, rather than by buying other companies.
Bank of America has already refocused efforts on customer service, said Denis Laplante, an analyst at Fox-Pitt, Kelton, who said the banks new strategy has been evident since last summer, when he met with bank executives.
I was very encouraged to hear them talk about it because that hadnt been part of their vocabulary, Mr. Laplante said.
Until now Bank of America has concentrated on cutting costs amid its expansion. The bank also had its hands full integrating companies it bought, announcing last summer that up to 10,000 jobs would be cut. But while trying to work off some of the fat its buying spree had accumulated, it has continued to hire judiciously.
Hiring outside the company was a welcome change, several observers said.
What they need to bring to the table is the ability to tie together teams and build a consensus. Those traits are not industry-specific, said Len Adams, chief operating officer at KPA Group in New York. They want to bring in new ideas and new perceptions.
He added: Management is management, a process is a process. This is a great idea. It brings in fresh ideas.
Alan Johnson of the Johnson Associates compensation consulting firm said it was probably hard for Bank of America to recruit from within the industry for the types of jobs it was filling.
If they dont have the skills internally, there are only eight or 10 other guys at banks that size, he said. The talent pool is small.