The reality of the situation is evident from the fact that Bank of America has a CEO search to begin with.
Supporters say that Lewis is a talented and experienced banker whose knowledge and dedication still make him the best man to lead Bank of America. But critics -- taxpayers and shareholders alike -- are unhappy with his handling of the Merrill Lynch acquisition in the midst of the financial crisis.
As the investigations, lawsuits and regulatory pressure piled up, he announced his resignation on Sept. 30 upon returning from an end-of-summer holiday. He was supposed to have stayed on board well into 2010 -- at least until Bank of America started to repay TARP funds -- while priming an internal candidate to replace him.
Lewis described his surprise departure as a personal choice. But there's little doubt that at some point during his fiesta in the Colorado mountains a Federal Reserve official's threat to get "a pound of flesh" out of him might have come to mind.Whomever replaces Ken Lewis will have a difficult task ahead, whatever his or her relationship with regulators. But Lewis is leaving without a salary for 2009 and as a defendant in several lawsuits; Citigroup (C - Get Report) CEO Vikram Pandit is defending himself against what appears to be a government-originated smear campaign; and Bob Benmosche has fought tooth and nail for American International Group (AIG - Get Report)salaries. On the other hand, JPMorgan Chase's (JPM - Get Report) Jamie Dimon's name is being tossed around as a potential Treasury secretary. His bank is nearly as large as Lewis', but no one is threatening to take an axe to it.