Friday, January 15, 2010

A Bank CEO "Bringing In His Own People"? Be Very Afraid.

"History is written by the victors, and so are organizational charts. So it was no surprise that Bank of America’s (BAC) new CEO, Brian Moynihan, demoted Greg Curl, the bank's chief risk officer and former rival for Moynihan's job. The financial press has reported that Moynihan, 50, wants to "bring in his own people." For shareholders, these are not encouraging words. Because history has also shown that it's usually a mistake to get rid of the couple of guys—the architects or consiglieres—who know how things work. These veterans tend to be micromanagers who build power by having everyone report to them and keep a lid on crucial information to stay on top. Curl was the only man allowed close enough to Ken Lewis to know how BofA was assembled.

The biggest error a new CEO in such a system can make is to overestimate his political leverage. Look at Citigroup’s (C) rocky history after the exit of micromanaging architect Sandy Weill. Weill was so detail-oriented that he acted as the de facto chief financial officer of the firm. After he left, the place went through five new CFOs in rapid succession—including Sallie Krawcheck—who all flamed out of the job because they couldn't break down (or accept) the institution's bewildering walls on financial information. Recently, Weill blamed his successors, Chuck Prince and Vikram Pandit, for mismanaging his vision."

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