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King was Tampa prince

Ken Lewis started off last week as king of Wall Street as the Bank of America chief executive engineered the shotgun buyout of Merrill Lynch. In one fell swoop, he created the nation's largest financial services company.

Lewis' moment of glory was quickly overshadowed as the economic turmoil continued to bubble up and headlines over huge market gyrations, sweeping financial overhauls and federal intervention pushed Merrill Lynch, Bank of America and Lehman Bros. aside. Still, the Biz can't let Lewis' dealmaking prowess go by without recalling those formative days he spent in Tampa.

Lewis, who hails from Meridian, Miss., joined the Bank of America predecessor firm NCNB Corp. nearly 40 years ago after graduating from Georgia State University. By the 1980s, he was on the fast track to upper management of the Charlotte, N.C., banking titan thanks in part to his success in integrating some smaller Florida banks into the NCNB fold.

Lewis' boss, the hard-charging Hugh McColl had set his sights on Florida as the crux to turning NCNB into a regional (and eventually national) player. In late 1985, Lewis was dispatched on a three-year stint to run the Florida franchise out of its Tampa headquarters. At the time, NCNB's stake in Florida was puny.

By 1997, Lewis had risen to president of NCNB (then called NationsBank) and spearheaded the acquisition of the largest bank based in Florida, Barnett Banks. Observers thought the merger mania would take a reprieve after McColl's retirement in 2000. But Lewis, the new chief, kept buying: FleetBoston Financial, MBNA, U.S. Trust. Over the past year along, Bank of America snapped up LaSalle Bank and the troubled Countrywide Financial Corp. Now comes Merrill Lynch with a powerful brokerage sales force that consumer banks have salivated over for years.

So is the 61-year-old Lewis making Merrill his swan song?

"I don't know if I will get to do another acquisition during my career,'' Lewis said during a news conference last week. "This is too important not to get right, so we're going to be focused on this one for quite some time.''

But they are still a long way from poorhouse

Forget Gates and Buffett. Sure, it's fun to marvel at the bank accounts of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. But it's also notable who's didn't make the cut. One Floridian falling off this year was James Clark of Netscape, And former Forbes 400 billionaire Bill Morean, whose wealth is tied to the weaker stock price of St. Petersburg's Jabil Circuit, where he serves as chairman of the board, once again didn't make it. Firm's silver anniversary brings a new nameplate

Jose Valiente's accounting firm, ValienteHernandez PA, celebrates its 25th anniversary year this year by giving itself … a merger. The Tampa firm is combining with Minneapolis accountants LarsonAllen and, in Tampa, will have a combined office of 35 people. Valiente, a high-profile Hispanic business leader, chaired the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce in 2006. The ValienteHernandez name will be replaced with the LarsonAllen name. Valiente emigrated from Cuba in 1962, grew up in Ybor City and graduated from Hillsborough High School and the University of South Florida. Jack Rybicki of LarsonAllen runs the Tampa office. Longtime industry council chief dies

William M. "Bill" Castoro passed away recently after serving an impressive 37 years as the executive director of the Pinellas County Industry Council, the county's chief economic development arm. Among many projects, Castoro worked to convert the old Department of Energy/Martin Marietta nuclear trigger plant in Largo into what is now the Young/Rainey STAR Center used as a startup facility for high-tech businesses. Here's what longtime area observer Carlen Maddux, editor and president of the Maddux Business Report, said about Castoro: "I remember the day when I told Bill as a business writer at the St. Petersburg Times not to call me again about a new company coming to Pinellas unless there were a minimum of 250 employees involved. It was truly a golden era for economic development here."

King was Tampa prince 09/21/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 5:33pm]
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