Rival or Reference?

Those vying to replace Ken Lewis, Bank of America Corp.'s chief executive, should ask Joe Price, its chief financial officer, for a letter of recommendation.

Price, also considered a possible successor to Lewis, was asked Tuesday to assess the company's management team after a series of shake-ups.

"If you look at the lineup we've got, you could feel pretty comfortable that we've aligned expertise in the businesses," he said during a conference hosted by Barclays Capital.

Price had the most praise for longtime colleagues.

He called Brian Moynihan, head of consumer banking, "a great change agent to fight through all of the things" going on with retail banking. Barbara Desoer, who is running the mortgage and insurance businesses, is the "perfect person for that with great expertise," he said.

Price went further, touting newer additions reportedly in the hunt to succeed Lewis.

He said of former Merrill Lynch & Co. executive Tom Montag, "We feel really good about him running the markets business," while noting Montag's "proven success." Regarding Sallie Krawcheck, a former Citigroup Inc. executive hired in August to oversee wealth management, Price said she "brings a wealth of experience to that business."

Price also took a moment to address the retooling of B of A's board, where the company has shed 10 directors and added five in recent months, indicating the flurry of changes may soon end.

It "feels more done than not," he said.

Haiku Finance

Speaking of Lewis … on Monday the B of A chief delivered his first public speech in Japan, and he tapped into national literature early on.

"Vision without action is a daydream," Lewis said, quoting a Japanese proverb. "Action without vision is a nightmare."

The quote set up a talk on what should be done to avoid another financial crisis, including a greater emphasis on traditional lending and compensation that penalizes when risk taking outpaces the rewards.

He cautioned against preventing banks from generating the capital needed for economic growth.

The speech also provided a new spin on another Japanese proverb: " 'Money grows on the tree of persistence.' " Lewis said, "There should be a new version: 'Money doesn't grow on overleveraged homes in an inflated real estate market.' I guess it's too late for that one."

Compensation 101

If you work at Citigroup and your pay package is not being scrutinized by the government, there's good news and bad news.

The bad news: This means you are not one of the company's top 100 earners, whose compensation levels are subject to federal review so long as Citi continues to be the beneficiary of taxpayer support.

The good news: You're still getting paid competitively, at least according to the Citi Chief Executive Vikram Pandit.

Defending the firm's ability to attract and retain talent, Pandit said this week at the Barclays conference that the government's grip on pay packages only extends so far.

"Away from these [top earners], 274,900 will be paid competitive for performance as well as recognizing the fact that they need to have an incentive to drive long-term performance," he said.

A Happy Reunion

Less than 48 hours after Lehman Brothers collapsed, Morgan Stanley hastily arranged a conference call on which Chief Financial Officer Colm Kelleher sought to quell the rumors that his firm would be among the next to fall.

In a bittersweet moment that humanized the chaos engulfing Wall Street, the final question on the call came from Roger Freeman, the brokerage analyst at Lehman. "Hey, Roger," Kelleher said, his softened tone conveying a mix of foxhole-buddy sympathy and fatherly encouragement. "Nice to hear from you."

One year later, Freeman got a chance to thank Kelleher publicly for the brief but poignant exchange.

Introducing Kelleher this week at the Barclays conference, Freeman, part of the Lehman research team that was absorbed by Barclays last year, told the audience that Kelleher "never lost his cool" during the bleakest days for the firm.

"On a personal note," he added, "I have to say … I think he put a personal face on the whole situation with a personal welcome to this analyst on a conference call who didn't know if he was still employed."

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