John Thain, former Merrill Lynch & Co Inc chief executive, wants the world to know that he has never thrown a chair.
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 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, who also is an amateur beekeeper, 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.
Lawmakers 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.
When asked whether he had spoken to Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis since his resignation, the MIT and Harvard-educated former CEO said, I wouldn't say that I resigned, but no I have not spoken to Lewis. When then asked whether he was fired, he said yes, he was.
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 Thain left the spotlight flipped to Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis. 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. Bank of America is searching for a replacement for Lewis.
The former CEO said he thinks bank executives have become more sensitive to high unemployment and rising underemployment but he defended the much-criticized Wall Street bonus tradition, arguing that it did not play a role in triggering the financial crisis.
Commenting on other regulatory proposals, he said he favors creating a federal fund that big financial companies would pay into if they had an implicit government guarantee to protect them from failure.
Thain said he does not think he has ever lived particularly excessively. Though he owns five BMWs, there are six drivers in his family, he said. He will probably spend the holidays skiing, he said -- like last year.
The New York Times cited people briefed on the meeting for its report on the chair-throwing. A spokeswoman for the Times said on Tuesday, the newspaper stands by its January story.
(Reporting by Elinor Comlay, additional reporting by Robert MacMillan, editing by Matthew Lewis)