Ken Thompson Ousted–Now It’s Real
For months, we've all been reading and hearing about how bad things were getting at Charotte's big banks, particularly Wachovia. But unless you actually worked at a bank--admittedly, that's a lot of people--it didn't always seem real. Sort of like when you read how much money a professional basketball player makes--the numbers were so big they almost didn't seem real. After all, our ATM cards still worked; we still got bank statements in the mail.
Even when now-former Wachovia CEO Ken Thompson lost his chairman's position a month ago, it barely registered. So what? He still ran the bank. But now that Wachovia's board has forced him to retire, the bank troubles seem very real in Charlotte indeed. This doesn't happen here. The Hugh McColls and Ed Crutchfields gracefully retire, making room for the Ken Lewises and Ken Thompsons. And on the civic scene, Thompson was one of the good guys. He actually chaired the boards himself, rather than getting a lackey to do it. He showed up; he made the phone calls.
A couple years ago, we did a quick photo shoot with Thompson for the cover of our last Power Issue. We ran a split cover that year–half of the covers featured BofA's Ken Lewis; half featured Thompson. I missed the Lewis shoot, but Thompson was as good-natured as can be. He walked in and said, "OK, you want me to look powerful, right?" And he gave us a series of looks conveying authority. The photo we ran was pretty austere, which was ironic because he is so jovial. He actually had to cut our shoot a little short because he had to go the DMV to get his driver's license renewed. He had already been once that morning, but the camera broke right as his turn came. He was joking that he had already broken one camera that day.
Of course, this story is about more than Thompson. Wachovia is in some real trouble, with no end in sight right now. I don't think it'll happen, but analysts are already saying that the bank could be sold, which could be a real blow to Charlotte. Here's a passage from the Wall Street Journal story online:
Analysts at UBS were comforted by the bank's indication that no new financial surprises have arisen, but said Wachovia nevertheless faces pressures that could precipitate a restructuring of the bank under a new CEO.
All of those analysts speculated Wachovia would be a good candidate for a sale, though the bank said in its release that it plans to remain independent.
This is a story we'll keep watching.