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Activist: Uncle Sam's BofA Board

Stocks in this article: BAC C GMGMQ

Last April, all eyes were on the Bank of America (BAC) shareholders meeting.

Many expected CEO Ken Lewis to lose the title of chairman -- which he did. But others, including me, expected that such a result might be a precursor to Lewis losing his job entirely and to other changes to the board.

So far, Lewis still has his job, but in a very non-public way the government appears to be engineering a number of steps to change how the country's largest bank is governed. In my view, Lewis will exit the bank sometime between September and February.

At the April target="new">shareholders meeting, anger directed toward BofA's board poured out of the audience, even in hometown Charlotte, N.C. When the results of the voting were announced, shareholders approved splitting the chair and CEO roles and almost (by less than half a percentage point) approved the right for shareholders to call special meetings to replace board members. Had broker non-votes been thrown out (as they will be next year), instead of counted as a vote for management, it's likely that Ken Lewis and Temple Sloan would not have been re-elected to the board.

BofA responded to the voting by announcing that Dr. Walter Massey, president emeritus at Morehouse College, would assume the role as independent chairman. The board also threw its support behind Ken Lewis continuing as CEO, trying to quash suspicions that he would exit the company entirely.

Several observers, however, immediately questioned the "independence" of this new chairman. For one thing, Massey is 71 and the board has a mandatory retirement age of 72. Will he really take a long-term view to ensure the board operates in a fully independent way from management, as the role implies, or will he be more of a stopgap -- until the board and/or government figure out how this bank is going to be governed moving forward? Also, how "independent" can Massey be when he's served on BofA's board (and its predecessor BankAmerica Corp.) since 1993?

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