The winner of the Banker of the Year award brought an unusual special guest with him to the annual dinner. Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis sat the forty-year scourge of shareholder meetings Evelyn Y. Davis at his side-and he had her good ear.
Ms. Davis, known and feared by many American CEOs for her relentless heckling during shareholder meetings and her opposition to large executive compensation packages and golden parachutes, was carrying Mr. Lewis´ faxed invitation to the Banker of the Year around in her purse. In a ballroom at the Plaza Hotel in New York City filled with banking executives, lawyers, and lobbyists worried about the deepening economic turmoil, Ms. Davis was a source of veritable gaiety. She is almost 80 years old, but despite the shorter investment horizon, she was neither gloomy nor critical of her host and his compatriots.
"I am cash rich," she said. "I only have the smallest part of my investments in stocks. I feel bad for all of these people who lost so much, but you have to expect that Wall Street is not a one-way street."
She praised Mr. Lewis´ speech, which focused on the imperative bankers now face to support industry and commerce and "help find a new balance between economic growth and the need for market stability."
But asked whether she thought Mr. Lewis was something special, Ms. Davis replied, "I cannot afford to have favorites."
Part of the reason for her scrupulousness could be "Highlights and Lowlights," her annual newsletter, which she publishes out of the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., where she also lives.
The year of its founding-1965-is marked on the headstone she has already erected for herself in a D.C.-area cemetery.
In this year´s edition she´s predicting the recession stretching to the end of 2009. (One man who has fallen out of her favor is Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. "I wish he had stayed at Goldman Sachs," she said. "I loved him then, but he´s lousy now. He doesn´t know what he´s doing.") She added that the subprime crisis would happen all over again sometime in the future "unless we only have mortgages with 20% down, and a fixed rate for 25 years or 30 years."
Other attendees of the dinner sought-and found-more comfort in Mr. Lewis´ speech.
Towards its close, Mr. Lewis called for "clear, efficient, effective regulation" instead of just stricter rules, and Diane Casey-Landry, the American Bankers Association´s chief operating officer and senior executive vice president, called out "Amen!"
When Mr. Lewis finished, and after the applause and the standing ovation were over, the crowd began to murmur and a voice at a table nearby said "Barack Obama should take a chunk of that speech and put it in his State of the Union address."