CHARLOTTE, N.C. (
) -- New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is not yet out of the running for the top job at
Bank of America
, according to a source familiar with the CEO search.
The source who spoke to
was not authorized to speak directly for BofA, but works for the bank. Corzine's name has been whispered within the top ranks for weeks, the source said. The Democratic governor's staff also "indicated that there might be some interest being shown," he said.
On Thursday, Corzine downplayed
that he was actively pursuing the role of CEO at BofA, saying: "I can confirm I have not spoken with them." He added that he hadn't "given ... a great deal of thought" to what he would do after leaving Trenton.
Corzine chose his words carefully, according to the source, because he has not spoken directly with the bank himself. His aides, however, are believed to have been in discussions with the board since shortly after his election loss.
LECG's Stanley Fortgang, who worked closely with Corzine at
for 10 years, also says he believes his friend and former colleague has been approached.
"I do believe they approached him," says Fortgang, who hasn't spoken directly with Corzine about the offer, but is familiar with his character and runs in the same circles. "I think he's tempted to take it and would be temped to take it...He would find enticing and challenging, given the right circumstances."
Corzine's Washington relationships would be immensely useful in running BofA, which is weighed down by a $45 billion taxpayer investment and closely scrutinized by regulators. The Democratic governor was elected as governor in 2005 and was the Garden State's freshman senator for five years before that.
He also has credentials in the banking industry from his time as Goldman's CEO -- a fact that may prove to be a double-edged sword.
Corzine's Goldman experience could be a help to BofA as it works through the integration of Merrill Lynch. Some former Merrill employees who remain at BofA worked closely with him at Goldman, including Thomas Montag, the head of global markets. However, there has been ample criticism of Goldman executives hopping from the private sector into government jobs and back. The implication is that they receive monetary and regulatory benefits from their symbiotic relationships.
Still, the bank source asserts, "He's the only guy with a Wall Street background who can get the job and not have people riot in the streets."
Another advantage is the executive compensation brouhaha that has kept other potential candidates at bay, and frustrated
American International Group
CEO Robert Benmosche so much that he reportedly threatened to quit recently after just three months on the job. Corzine has a personal fortune estimated at more than $400 million from his time at the helm of Goldman, and hadn't planned to earn an outsized paycheck for at least the next four years.
"He doesn't need the money," quips Fortgang, who says his old boss would take the job because he was "challenged by the idea and the opportunity."
The choice of Corzine could lure in the support of another important contingent as well: Shareholders.
"He brings strong ties to government and can assist in dealing with regulatory issues facing Bank of America," says Jonathan Finger, who owns more than 1 million BofA shares through his firm Finger Interests. "As a former Chairman and co-CEO of Goldman, he has demonstrated leadership capabilities beyond the internal candidates. He has a strong background in investment banking and risk management as well.
Finger has been a vocal critic of internal candidates Brian Moynihan and Greg Curl, and came up with a roster of 18 potential outside candidates of his own. His firm also helped lead the charge to oust current Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis from his role as chairman.
Finger would prefer that the board pick one of two former BofA executives -- Jim Hance or Al deMolina -- neither of whom have been contacted, he says. However, he adds that Corzine is a "superior candidate" to either Moynihan or Curl "in terms of experience and leadership. He is not burdened with the regulatory and investigation issues surrounding Mssrs. Curl & Moynihan."
When asked by
on Thursday about Corzine's potential to lead Bank of America, spokesman Robert Stickler reiterated the bank's statement that it is "not participating in speculation," though there are both internal and external candidates in play.
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how the Obama administration would look upon Corzine as BofA's next leader, whether politically or operationally.
While Corzine has extensive credentials as a leader, and as a player in the capital markets, his traditional banking background is limited. Corzine worked for a short time in the bond department of Chicago's Continental-Illinois National Bank, and also spent some years at the regional bank Bank One in Columbus, Ohio. In 1975, he moved to the Garden State and began trading bonds at Goldman.
Nonetheless, Fortgang points out that Corzine might only be a "temporary choice" at the age of 62. He could come in and leverage the experience of talented underlings to run the bank effectively, while he acted as a "bridging person" between BofA and Washington. He characterizes Corzine as a proactive person who has a conciliatory nature and excellent management skills.
commentator Charles Gasparino first identified Corzine as a potential Lewis successor earlier this week, citing an anonymous source. He refused to back down from his claim after Corzine made an attempt to debunk it. However, nothing is definite, and Corzine could well be passed over, even if he does get vetted by the board.
Either way, the longtime Democrat will leave office at the beginning of next year, a couple of weeks after Lewis plans to step down.
" He's upset and embarrassed about the loss in New Jersey, and maybe this recapture some of the magic of his reputation," says Fortgang, "The real question is, What's he going to do with the rest of his life?"
-- Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York