BofA: Where’s the new CEO?

The Bank of America Corp. (BofA) CEO search drags on. First the board said through a spokesperson that they were going to have a candidate in October. Then Thanksgiving came and went. Now the deadline is first quarter 2010. According to the Wall Street Journal, the bank’s board is meeting today but they likely will not be naming a new CEO. So what exactly are they doing: Hanging the stockings with care?

While the board deliberates, the usual vacuum gets filled with everything from potential candidates who won’t take the job to how the bank paid back TARP money so they could attract the right CEO candidate. Pardon the blunt dismissal, but this latest mainstream revelation is dumb. No one at that level is going to make their decision based solely on money, and if they were, then they’re not suited for what the job requires.

Managers take jobs because of money; leaders take jobs because of the ego-based challenge and then the money, which when you’re a candidate for the top job at the nation’s largest bank assumes you don’t need a paycheck every 15 days. Of course this assumption could be wrong like most of the others during the Great Recession. But the rule generally holds true at the top rung.

Let’s review a few key qualifications since the basics seem to have lost more interest than a C-SPAN rerun. Sooner board steps up, obviously the better.

1.) Proven leader, not another manager. The new CEO needs to be someone with gravitas and proven ability to navigate constituencies that some believe now poison the bank’s dry well: Government regulators, Obama administration officials, investors and previous owners (latter two are one in the same but sometimes it’s difficult to tell.) For anyone that still believes that the new hurler in chief will be a qualified manager from the inside, recall the baseball song about belly itchers and relief pitchers. One does not preclude the other. If that doesn’t suffice then consider what the WSJ’s Intelligent Investor had to say about the difference a new CEO makes in a company’s profitability: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703735004574575880529756434.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_sections_personalfinance
Preview of answer: Not much. Difference is little more than a coin flip.

2.) Able to lead and build credible consensus in a new direction. The previous occupant, Ken Lewis, comes from the old command control school where oddly the new darling, GM Chairman Ed Whitacre, came from as well. That’s not going to cut it. Key question: Who can marshall the capital, both human and financial, combined with the right strategy to move BofA forward in not only a different direction but an entirely new operating environment? Trust and confidence weigh heavily here but don’t try telling that to the board, which hasn’t exactly used this transition period to build either quality.

3.) Character as a tangible vs. intangible requirement. Okay, don’t roll your eyes. While this qualification gets thrown around more than a bromide, reputation does matter. Or at least it should in this case based on the former occupant’s behavior. In his “Eighth Habit,” Stephen Covey cites a stat. that lends credence here: 90 percent of all leadership failures are due to character. Flaws, break downs, sacrificing values, etc. You would think that whoever takes the top job at BofA will need to be squeaky clean and politically astute. And no, those two qualifiers don’t represent an oxymoron.

Good luck, BofA board. We look forward to hearing from you directly sometime through your Chairman or search firm. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

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