The beard should have given him away. When Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis returned from vacation in Aspen, Colo., last month, the clean-cut Southerner was sporting scruff for the first time in memory. That wasn't the last change he had in store: on Sept. 30, Lewis unexpectedly announced he will step down by the end of the year, leaving the giant bank scrambling to find a successor. The 62-year-old garnered plaudits as he climbed the firm's rungs over 40 years, but he has absorbed a series of blows for his stewardship of the company during the financial crisis particularly his bold takeover of Merrill Lynch in September 2008, which many critics believe was not worth the $50 billion price tag. Merrill went on to lose more than $15 billion in the fourth quarter last year; Bank of America's stock price has since fallen by half.
Born April 9, 1947, in Meridian, Miss. His family lived 50 miles away in Walnut Grove, but the small town lacked a hospital. Grew up in Columbus, Ga.
Worked his way through Georgia State University as an accountant and airline-ticket agent, graduating with a finance degree in 1969.
That same year, took a job as a credit analyst at North Carolina National Bank and began his long climb to the top. The bank was swallowed by a series of larger firms, eventually merging into Bank of America.
Reported to a new position in Florida less than 24 hours after being asked to run a string of bank branches in 1985.
Became Bank of America's chief operating officer in 1999, CEO in 2001 and chairman in 2005.
Anger over the Merrill Lynch takeover led shareholders to strip Lewis' chairman title in April 2009.
Divorced in 1978. Married his former boss's secretary two years later. They have two children from previous marriages.
His tenure was marked by several major acquisitions, including FleetBoston Financial Corp. in 2003 for $47 billion, credit card giant MBNA in 2005 for $35 billion, Countrywide Financial Corp. in 2008 for $4 billion, and Merrill Lynch in 2008 for $50 billion.
The Securities and Exchange Commission and New York's attorney general are investigating whether Lewis misled Bank of America shareholders before the Merrill Lynch acquisition. Merrill has paid out billions in bonuses to its staff that were allegedly not fully disclosed.
"Wherever I sent him, he always made money."
Former Bank of America head Hugh McColl, who dispatched Lewis, once his deputy, across the country to oversee bank acquisitions. (CNN.com, Oct. 1, 2009)
"It is extraordinary that Lewis has remained this long under these circumstances."
Stephen Lerner, an official at the Service Employees International Union, on Lewis maintaining his CEO position after being stripped of his chairman's role. (TIME.com, Aug. 4, 2009)
"He's had a big target on his chest for the whole Merrill Lynch deal, and I can only imagine the emotional stress he's endured."
Alan Villalon, an analyst at First American Funds, after Lewis' announcement. (Associated Press, Sept. 30, 2009)
"I don't think those who know me would call me cold."
Disputing his reputation for being distant and introspective. (USA Today, Sept. 17, 2008)
"There is an easy solution to avoid the fee. Just become a customer."
On complaints following Bank of America's decision to increase its ATM fee from $2 to $3 in 2008. (The Myrtle Beach Sun-News, in South Carolina, March 9, 2008)
"Foreclosures are not good for anybody. It's the last thing any lender wants to do. It's the worst thing for a neighborhood."
(The Myrtle Beach Sun-News, March 9, 2008)
"I don't feel the need to be a dominant force through talking first or talking the most. That's not one of my needs."
(TIME, Jan. 28, 2008)
"Some will suggest that I am leaving under pressure or because of questions regarding the Merrill deal. I will simply say that this was my decision, and mine alone."
In his letter to bank staff announcing his retirement. (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 30, 2009)