Updated from 10:08 a.m. EST For a free-market enthusiast like BB&T Corp. ( BBT) Chairman John Allison, these are trying times. In a career spanning four decades, including the last 19 as CEO, Allison helped build the Winston-Salem, N.C., bank into one of the 25 largest U.S. financial institutions -- and one that has weathered the credit crisis better than most. Allison followed through with a long-planned decision to step down as CEO of BB&T at the end of last year, even amid the banking sector carnage that accelerated with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September. In an exclusive interview with TheStreet.com, Allison was critical of his fellow financial executives and the federal government as he offered his perspective of the causes of the crisis and solutions needed to restore the banking industry. " A lot of financial institutions did dumb stuff," says Allison. " B ut they did it in the context of a government system that was misleading. I mean, probably all of us were misled." "Once you had this government -- through the Federal Reserve, through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. , through Freddie Mac ( FRE) and Fannie Mae ( FNM) -- supporting this expansion of housing, it's easy to believe that housing prices won't ever fall," he says. "That was the context in which very poor decisions were made."
An Admirer of Ayn Rand
Allison's philosophy is greatly influenced by Ayn Rand, who laid the foundation for generations of believers in free markets in her novel Atlas Shrugged. Rand was a big proponent of individualism and limited government intervention. The erudite Allison's admiration for Rand has won him both praise and criticism.