November 17, 2009 / 9:56 PM / 10 years ago

Thain unrepentant over Merrill tenure

NEW YORK (Reuters) - John Thain, former Merrill Lynch & Co Inc chief executive, wants the world to know that he has never thrown a chair.

Former chief executive of Merrill Lynch, John Thain, speaks at the Reuters Global Finance Summit in New York November 17, 2009. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“That was 100 percent made up,” he said at the Reuters Global Finance Summit, referring to a New York Times report that he threw a chair against the wall in anger last year. The newspaper said the chair shattered a nearby glass panel.

“Do I seem like a guy who throws chairs?” asked Thain. “That conference room doesn’t even have a glass wall,” he added.

The former Merrill head, looking very much like a current rather chief executive, dressed in a dark suit with red tie and his trademark rimless spectacles, said he is now looking for a job in private equity, or with a public company.

Thain, who arranged in September 2008 for Bank of America Corp to buy Merrill, said he has no regrets about the deal.

“You always learn things from your experiences but I believe I did the right thing for my shareholders,” he said. “I believe that the transaction, given the circumstances, was the right thing to do. I believe I did my job, and I’m proud of the fact that I did my job.”

The former CEO said he has been relaxing over the last year and getting more sleep and exercise, but he appeared anxious when questioned about events surrounding the Bank of America deal that he said were not true.

“The press and the characterization of some of the things, like me secretly accelerating the bonuses (paid to Merrill staff in December), was absolutely not true,” Thain said.

Congress and various federal regulators have accused Bank of America of failing to adequately disclose various details about the Merrill merger to investors, including the payment of $3.6 billion of bonuses to Merrill staff.

“It’s not pleasant to read things about yourself when you know it’s not true,” Thain said. “I did my job and I don’t regret that.”

A MAGNET

Speaking at the summit on Monday, veteran investment banker Joe Perella defended Thain.

“He’s one of the most talented executives I ever met in the financial services industry,” he said. “In an industry with a dearth of talent, it’s a shame he’s not being utilized.”

Thain in January became a magnet for the ire of shareholders, lawmakers and members of the public looking for someone to blame as Bank of America’s share price plummeted.

After he left, the spotlight flipped to Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis, and the bank’s executives became embroiled in federal and state probes, a reported Justice Department and FBI investigation and many lawsuits.

Lewis, who has said U.S. regulators pressed him to complete the Merrill acquisition as it became clear Merrill would report billions in losses in the fourth quarter, is set to retire at the end of the year.

Thain said he thinks bank executives have become more sensitive to high unemployment and rising underemployment. He does not think he himself ever lived “particularly excessively.”

Though he owns five BMWs, there are six drivers in his family, he said.

The New York Times cited “people briefed on the meeting” for its report on the chair-throwing. A spokeswoman said the newspaper stands by its January story.

Reporting by Elinor Comlay, additional reporting by Robert MacMillan, editing by Matthew Lewis

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