(Updated with Corzine denial)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (
) -- The media thread about who may be
Bank of America's
next CEO has gotten more speculative by the day, complicating a delicate process at the country's largest bank, and frustrating other executives caught in the gossip mill's turbines.
The latest report came from
Charles Gasparino, who suggested on Thursday that former
CEO and current New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine might have been in the running - a rumor that Corzine himself quickly shot down.
Photo Gallery: The Bank of America CEO Contenders
"I can confirm I have not spoken with them," Corzine said on Thursday after a mass for law enforcement officers in Newark, according to
Corzine recently lost his re-election bid to Republican Chris Christie, in part because voters spurned the same credentials that would hypothetically make him a candidate at BofA: He's rich and he knows how to manage money. When asked about returning to Wall Street, he added, "I haven't given it a great deal of thought."
Gasparino stuck by his story even after Corzine himself spoke, while also calling him a "washed-up governor." At the same time, the TV commentator has been a vocal advocate of Larry Fink, the chairman and CEO of BlackRock, succeeding current BofA CEO Ken Lewis. Nevermind that Fink hasn't openly expressed interest in the job, has reportedly told associates that he doesn't want it, and that his hard-edged, white-shoe manner is the polar opposite of BofA's history of warm, traditional Southern banker charm. (Talk about culture clash.)
Dozens of names have already been floated, and at least one led the floatee to respond.
Bank of New York Mellon
CEO Robert Kelly wrote to his operating committee after days of toying reports that he had been approached by BofA's board repeatedly, and may be interested in the job.
"I want to be clear: I am not interested," says the memo.
A long list of names has been suggested. Of the roughly 29 candidates, 19 of them - 66% -- have jobs at competing institutions. They may be quite content there, they may never have been on the board's list of names to vet, and the speculation that they are could threaten the stability of their own organization, and their livelihood.
On Thursday, in response to questions from
, Bank of America dismissed another speculative report in the
, which said BofA "might not" meet its goal of naming a new leader by Thanksgiving.
"We are not participating in speculation," said spokesman Robert Stickler, reiterating previous remarks. "There are still external and internal candidates. We should have a decision by Thanksgiving."
The board has a massive challenge in replacing Lewis, who announced his resignation by surprise on Sept. 30 after months of increasing pressure from regulators and shareholders unhappy about his handling of the Merrill Lynch deal. Whatever one's opinion of Lewis, he has shepherded the bank through an unprecedented crisis and has 40 years of experience at BofA. His replacement will have a lot to learn and be forced to deal with the same regulatory pressures, for a salary guaranteed to be short of competitive.
Rochdale Securities analyst Dick Bove wrote in a report Thursday morning that the "new" CEO should be Lewis himself, noting the "frustrations" of Edward Liddy and
at the helm of
American International Group
"The obvious candidate for the job is Ken Lewis," said Bove. "Someone with authority should get him to change his mind. No decision is irreversible."
That scenario appears unlikely, though perhaps one of the dozens of other candidates will actually succeed. Here is the roster:
Within the bank, there was
, BofA's 49-year-old head of consumer and small-business banking; Greg Curl, the 62-year-old chief risk officer and key deal engineer whom Lewis favors; Sallie Krawcheck, who joined BofA just months ago as head of global wealth and investment management, and is a former
top gun; Thomas Montag, a Merrill holdover who now runs global markets; and Barbara Desoer, who runs the mortgage and insurance divisions. Some board members - former Bank One Vice Chairman William Boardman and former
President Robert Scully - were also cited as potential temporary replacements, though that theory was quickly shot down.
Outside the bank, there are a few former Bank of America executives, including Alvaro DeMolina, who moved on to lead GMAC Financial Services; James Hance, who left BofA when it became clear that he'd be passed over for the CEO role; and Michael O'Neill, a director at Citibank who was CEO of BofA's California arm before it merged with the North Carolina quotient.
Then there's recently deposed Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, who remains chairman at that firm;
President Alfred Kelly;
head of retail banking, Charles Scharf; Bill Winters, who was recently ejected as JPMorgan's head of investment banking; former
CEO Jerry Grundhofer and former CFO David Moffett, who also ran
for a short time; former
CEO Robert Steel; former
CEO Alan Schwartz; former Goldman Vice Chairman Robert Kaplan; and John Kanas, the former head of North Fork who is now running what used to be known as
IndyMac for a private equity consortium.
Finger Investments, a vocal opponent of Lewis, issued a list of 18 hypothetical candidates last week, which included a few new names:
Chairman and CEO David Nelms; Bill Demcheck, a senior vice chairman at
; Citi Vice Chairman Ned Kelly; Citibank CEO Gene McQuade; Arkadi Kuhlmann, the chairman and president of ING Direct;
CEO Rich Fairbanks;
Chairman Tony Terciano;
First Acceptance Corp.
Chairman Gerald Ford ("admittedly a long shot," says Finger's regulatory filing that proposed the slate of names).
Since the speculative windmill continues to churn, we'd like to throw another hat into the ring: Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. He has the financial credentials as a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, is familiar with the regulatory landscape and TARP, and was so supportive of the Merrill Lynch deal that he
pressured Lewis into closing it
. As luck would have it, he's also unemployed.
One conflict may be his
book tour in early 2010, but perhaps he can take an early vacation.
-- Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York