CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Some two decades ago, Brian Moynihan’s younger brother Patrick came to him for advice. Patrick who had been a trader wanted to move to Africa to work as a missionary.
Moynihan, now the chief executive of Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), instead suggested moving to Haiti to run a Catholic school that he had long helped fund.
The Louverture Cleary School has been a long-time - but little-known - passion for the leader of the second-largest U.S. bank by assets. And while the bank doesn’t have operations in the country, Moynihan said he has for years seen a big need for helping out there.
On Thursday, he will visit the country and the school for the first time - and get the chance to see his brother. At a conference in Port-au-Prince, Bank of America is launching a global initiative to mentor women in developing countries. Moynihan will be one of the closing speakers on Thursday.
If any banker currently needs an image makeover, it may be Moynihan. For more than two years, he has faced intense pressure to reverse the fortunes of Bank of America, which was twice bailed-out by the U.S. government during the financial crisis and is embroiled in the aftermath of its disastrous purchase of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial.
The bank’s stock has rebounded this year after a 58 percent slide in 2011, but questions still remain about whether he is up to the task of leading the bank’s recovery.
Moynihan said his visit to Haiti was not a bid to burnish his image. “We do this stuff all the time,” he said. “When things are different, people don’t look at them.”
Supporting a global mentoring program is part of the bank’s growth as a worldwide financial institution, he added.
Moynihan wouldn’t say how much he and his wife have given to the school over the years. In 2009, he contributed $150,000 alone, according to a Brown University alumni magazine article. For 2011, Moynihan received a $950,000 salary and stock grants worth nearly $6 million, according to securities filings.
When compared with people like billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) Chairman Bill Gates who have pledged tens of billions of dollars to philanthropic causes, Moynihan’s contribution may seem small. But it is one that the 52-year-old executive has nurtured for years, starting much before he made the millions he makes now.
Moynihan’s ties to the school date to his undergraduate days at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He went to services at a Catholic church where the priest was very involved with the country and often spoke about its challenges in his homilies.
When Moynihan returned to Providence and the church after law school, he was asked to serve on a nonprofit that would create the Louverture Cleary School. The directors were heavily involved in its operations, and at one point, Moynihan was in charge of cutting every check.
In the mid-1990s, he moved to Boston because the bank he worked at, Fleet Financial, had shifted its headquarters from Providence after a merger. At the same time, his brother was giving up a career as a trader to become a missionary.
Under Patrick, the school has added more female students, built its endowment and added a requirement that students do community work. Lately, students have helped fix homes in the wake of a January 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.
The school, near the capital of Port-au-Prince, suffered little damage in the quake. His brother and his family live in a house near campus, but they return to the United states for vacations. The school has about 350 students.
Patrick calls and emails often, Moynihan said. The CEO offers his brother emotional support and advice.
“The challenge for him is the challenge for all us,” he said. “This is a marathon in life. You can’t be sprinting all the time or else you wear yourself out. You have to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, keeping yourself grounded and not letting every little thing get you worked up.”
Over the years, Moynihan said he hasn’t found the time to visit the country. A couple of times, political unrest in the country scuttled planned visits.
He said he feels he’s best suited to help in his current role, using his money and business talents to support his brother’s work from afar.
“My priority has been to make sure I could do everything I could do to help them go,” Moynihan said. “My presence physically is probably not the most important part.”
Asked how he will reconcile the pay bankers make with the poverty he will likely see in the country, he said people can find situations like that anywhere, including in the United States.
“People have to make their own choices,” he said. “The challenge to people like me is, how do you use your capabilities and resources to help support things that are important to you, whether it’s the arts or education or homelessness?”
But while, Moynihan is excited at the prospect of seeing the school and Haiti, he doesn’t expect to follow in his brother’s missionary footsteps.
“Nobody has gone to this country and not come back impacted,” he said, but he added he’s “completely happy” with his current job.
Reporting By Rick Rothacker in Charlotte, N.C.; Editing by Paritosh Bansal