Okay, now. Imagine you are Ken Lewis, who yesterday announced his decision to take early retirement from his position at Bank of America. No, go ahead. Take a deep breath and put yourself in his shoes. Nice shoes, huh? Sure. That comes with the job. Hey. Get your mind off your wing-tips and pay attention. You want to understand why Ken walked? Look at it this way:
Choice #1: Everybody is on your butt. They don't like the merger you arranged with Merrill Lynch. They certainly don't like the billions of dollars in bonuses you paid to your new colleagues. They don't like you. That means pretty much everybody, including a bunch of politicians who came to the party very, very late and now are in a professional public swivet that's honing in on you.
You've been at the place since 1969. Ah, those were the days! There was nowhere to go but up. The future looked bright and clear. Now, all you can think about is who and what is going to be on the other end of the line when the phone rings again. You walk around mad all the time. Mad and, yeah, if you had to admit it, scared, too. Conversations with your Board and your legal team are horrendous. Nobody says, "Hi, Ken!" when they see you in the hall.
Worst of all, your friends, the ones who haven't abandoned you, ask you "How are you doing?" all the time, with a concerned expression. You hate that concerned expression. And as you look forward to the days and years ahead, all you see is incessant labor, never-ending rationalizing of what you've done to friends, enemies, lawyers and legislators, endless hours in featureless conference rooms soaking up the acid in your stomach with muffins from the credenza in the corner.
Choice #2: You go home. Sure, you still have to appear in public show-trials for the next few years. You will no longer have the power to make grown men cry, except perhaps waiters. But the hell with all that.
Although you're not entitled to the massive severance package you might have enjoyed under normal circumstances, you do have all that dough you've socked away over the years. In addition, there are pension benefits reportedly worth $53.2 million and about $82 million in stock and other compensation that you've received over the course of your career. The government watchdogs can't touch anything that was legally binding as of last February, although they'll be sure to try.
Let 'em. You'll be long gone. Any way you slice it, you're not going to be shopping at the local mall for your sans-a-belts. First thing you'll do, maybe, is get a couple of days away someplace with the family. Paris, maybe. Or Cabo. Except Cabo is so crowded these days. Maybe Kiawah, for some golf. Yeah. And if they want to find you, well, they can call your cell. It's possible you'll be going into a tunnel when they do, too.
That's it. That's your choice. I don't think it sounds like a tough one, do you?
In the huge Bank of America (BAC) fiasco/bailout/tailspin, there are a lot of people at whom it would be tempting to wave a wobbly finger. Ken Lewis is taking a lot of heat, and it's not hard to see why. His decision to purchase Merrill Lynch back last fall is looking like the ultimate investment in a money pit.
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