Is BofA's Lewis Smarter Than Wall Street?

Last Updated Sep 18, 2008 8:49 AM EDT

Bank of America's CEO Ken Lewis' opportunistic acquisition of Merrill Lynch for $44 billion is just the latest in a line of $100 billion worth of deals he's crafted over the last five years. One Hundred Billion. Even on Wall Street, that's a big number.

Is Lewis a genius -- or an empire-building mad man? OK, we'll rule out madness. But Harvard Business Publishing blogger Bill Taylor, in a very entertaining post, believes Lewis is headed in a direction opposite from the path many successful firms take.

"My concern," Taylor writes, "is that what makes Ken Lewis and his company tick runs counter to almost every major trend in business I've seen over the last five years -- and are at odds with what customers are looking for in the companies with which they do business."

Read Taylor's post for more insights, but here are the three trends he thinks BofA will have trouble bucking:

  1. Bigger is almost never better.
  2. Broader is almost never better.
  3. All the customer wants is for companies to be better.
Do you think BofA and Ken Lewis are positioned to become, if not there already, the next financial superpower on Wall Street? Does it makes sense for commercial banks to own investment banks?
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.