Incoming Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan pledged Thursday to carry the bank into better times and fulfill departing CEO Ken Lewis' longtime mission to make the company the most admired one in the world.
During his first public appearance since being named CEO, Moynihan, Bank of America's consumer banking head, thanked the board of directors for its support and thanked the management team for its dedication through a difficult year.
He also praised Lewis for his forward-looking strategy: Buying FleetBoston to fill a gap in the Northeast and merging with Merrill Lynch to better serve the bank's affluent customers.
"That leaves us with one thing to do," he told employees packed into an uptown Charlotte theater. "We just have to flat-out execute it."
Moynihan, 50, told the crowd of employees at the Charlotte-based bank to enjoy the holidays, get lots of rest and come back ready to work hard.
"We have to fulfill that mission to be the most admired company ... because customers deserve it," he said. "Ken spent 10 years getting us here, and we have an obligation to fulfill that mission for Ken."
Moynihan shared the stage with Lewis, whose stint as CEO ends Dec. 31. Lewis told the crowd he's been impressed with Moynihan since he met him.
"Many of you know him because he's been in so many different jobs," he said, drawing laughter from the audience. "So hopefully, he'll stay in this job longer. ... A CEO's legacy is the next CEO, so I want him to do real well."
Lewis said Moynihan is smart, humble and cares for his customers. "Another unique characteristic about him is, he wanted the job," he joked. "That may end up being in the category of 'be careful what you wish for.'"
Next year will be challenging, but there's reason to believe it will be better than this year, Lewis said. He urged the crowd to "circle the wagons and give (Moynihan) the support he needs."
Lewis, 62, announced Sept. 30 that he would step down at year's end, ending a four-decade career at the company amid mounting criticism of his Jan. 1 Merrill acquisition.
The bank's headquarters will remain in Charlotte, Moynihan said. Moynihan's Boston ties as a former FleetBoston executive had raised concerns about his commitment to Charlotte.
Moynihan's selection also is likely to agitate investors who wanted a fresh start and to raise questions about the bank's ability to attract a big-name CEO from outside the company.
After Bank of New York Mellon chief executive Bob Kelly dropped out of the running on Monday, Bank of America appeared to be left with two internal candidates - Moynihan and chief risk officer Greg Curl.
Moynihan represents a younger leader who could lead the nation's biggest bank for many years, while Curl, 61, is a Charlotte-based veteran who probably offered a short-term fix.