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Update appended -- A Boston-area banking star could soon be in charge of the nation’s largest bank.
Brian Moynihan, 50, who lives in Wellesley and runs Bank of America’s consumer and business banking division, is a leading candidate to take over the reigns when CEO Ken Lewis resigns by the end of this year.
Before you think this is hometown cheerleading about a local boy done good, you should know that Brian Moynihan actually grew up in Ohio and went to law school at Notre Dame.
But the man who could take over the most prominent banking job in the country launched his impressive career in New England, at a Providence law firm.
"Brian is a fellow who gave no quarter," said former Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge colleague Jim Skeffington, remembering the tireless young associate who had incredible energy to work long hours.
"While he practiced law with us he also played rugby on the side," Skeffington said. "And sometimes he’d come into the office with a black eye or a cut over his eye or you know a wounded arm or something, and it never bothered him!"
What made the biggest mark, Skeffington said, was Moynihan’s analytical mind. It’s something that a client noticed, too. The law firm did work for Fleet Financial, and the bank hired Moynihan away.
There was a lot going on at Fleet at the time. Moynihan made a name for himself by helping the company grow rapidly through mergers and industry innovations.
When Bank of America bought FleetBoston in 2004, Moynihan became one of several local bankers to climb rapidly through the Charlotte bank’s ranks.
Bob Gallery, Massachusetts director for Bank of America, said Moynihan excelled because of his ability to solve complex problems and his management skills.
"You’re much more likely to see Brian with his sleeves rolled up and his tie undone in there working with his team," Gallery said, "trying to figure out what to do in a given situation."
Over the years, Moynihan headed some of the premier operations for Bank of America. Stefan Selig worked for him when Moynihan ran the company’s investment business in New York.
"You know a lot of people obviously work in their comfort zone," Selig said. "I think Brian is the exact opposite. Which is, I think he relishes the opportunity to take on new challenges and be more expansive."
Moynihan also helped Bank of America expand into the national giant it is today. But that hand in mergers and acquisitions and new businesses could also count against him. John Carusone runs the Bank Analysis Center in Hartford and said the question facing the board of directors is whether Moynihan is the right man to lead the company today.
The financial crisis has hurt Bank of America. Its capitalization may not be as good as it should be. The bank owes TARP money to the federal government and its pricey purchase of investment bank Merrill Lynch has been controversial. Moynihan would be taking over the company amid intense shareholder and regulator scrutiny.
"He’s been around the company for a long enough time that he can justifiably take a bow for some of the company’s accomplishments and also has to acknowledge responsibility for some of the company’s overreaching in its acquisitions and prices paid for them," Carusone said. "So his aggressiveness cuts both ways."
It’s clear that Moynihan has been thinking hard about leadership at the highest level. Speaking to business-school students at Pepperdine University this month, he said one of the hardest things to learn in senior management is the ability to listen — calling it something that's been hard for him to do, growing up as he did in a family of eight children.
"Because the next person was going to come in and speak over the top of you," Moynihan said. "And so to learn how to be that patient has taken a lot of work."
It may soon become clear whether Moynihan will need to be more patient, or whether the Boston-area banker man emerges from the scrum to become the next CEO of the Bank of America.
Update: Since WBUR ran this profile of Brian Moynihan, the Boston-area banker indeed has been named CEO.
This program aired on November 25, 2009.
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