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On December 17, 2009, Ken Lewis introduced to the company the guy who would be taking over his job, Brian Moynihan, by telling the audience that one of his successor’s “unique characteristics” was that he “actually wanted the job,” a reference to the fact that no one else, literally, did. While Moynihan was undoubtedly aware that the new gig would not carry the same prestige or money as running Goldman, or the groupies that come with running JPMorgan, or the pony rides that come with running Citi, one thing that apparently came as a surprise to him– but that those who turned down the position could foresee– was that this job? Really, really sucks.
In the beginning, if indeed Bri-O reached that conclusion as well, he kept it to himself, maintaining a stiff upper lip. But as the fruits of Countrywide founder Angelo Mozilo’s labor really began to blossom and Moynihan? Started to lose it.
In November, feeling like he was in a safe space among friends at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Banking and Financial Services Conference, he walked people through a typical day at BofA, i.e. his own personal hell, telling participants: “There’s a lot of people out there with a lot of thoughts about how we should solve this [mortgage mess] but at the end of the day, we’ll pay for the things that Countrywide did,. It’s a day-to-day, hand-to-hand combat.”
At a fundraiser for the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, Moynihan was said to have “laughed” in reaction to a joke by Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman, who told dinner guests: “Brian Moynihan is here tonight. He’s the C.E.O. of Bank of America. As many of you know, Brian’s brother Patrick runs a Catholic boarding school in Haiti. Their parents must be so proud to see two of their boys running an underfunded, nonprofit organization.” But just below his tranquil, happy-go-lucky veneer, B-Mo was silently screaming, feeling far from happy and anything but lucky. We know this because while he had to act like the cut rolled off his back, like he can take a joke, like it didn’t hit too close to home and like he wasn’t trying to figure out if it’d be possible to contaminate an entire shipment of crab legs and not have it tied back to him, the following day, he let it out. At a town hall meeting on Friday, his voice presumably a-quiver, Brian told employees:
“I, like you, get a little incensed when you think about how much good all of you do, whether it’s volunteer hours, charitable giving we do, serving clients and customers well.” To the bank’s critics, he said, “You ought to think a little about that before you start yelling at us.”
Now, if someone like, say, Dick Fuld, had said this, it would have been a warning that he was going to start busting skulls. If, someone like, say, Jamie Dimon had said it, it would have been a clear message that the “critics” had best watch their backs and that there’s a vacant lot in Atlanta where bodies can be dumped. When Brian Moynihan said it, however, it was a cry for help. It wasn’t so much a veiled threat insinuating what would happen if the haters continue to yell at Bank of America as it was a voice shaking, knees-cradled, rocking-back-and-forth “stop yelling at me!” He’s cracking and cracking hard.
And, because we care about the guy and can see that he’s thisclose to snapping, we’d like to encourage the investing community to think about what it can do to take the sting off small, every day situations that could push him over the edge. Random acts of kindness towards Brian that could help shake him free of the ‘me vs. the world’ mentality that come to mind include:
– Letting him cut to the front of particularly long lines at Pinkberry
– Taking some shitty mortgages off his hands
– Giving him your seat on the subway when he’s in town
– STOPPING PRANK CALLING HIM during market hours
– Stopping in front of him to tie your shoe so as to have him in earshot when you loudly remark to your friend, “A $5 monthly debit-card fee seems MORE than reasonable to me. Frankly, I think it should be ten.”
– Offering him a job
– Your great idea