The life of Brian


He has the look of an athlete, compact with broad shoulders. He also has something of a pre-game focus, a quiet intensity, and gives the impression, even as he answers questions, that he has his eye on the ball and he’s not forgetting for a moment that right now he’s involved in the biggest game of his career.

At just 49, Brian Moynihan is engaged in the complicated task of integrating Merrill Lynch into Bank of America.

A graduate of Brown University and the University of Notre Dame Law School, Moynihan joined FleetBoston in April 1993 as deputy general counsel, and came to Bank of America following its acquisition of FleetBoston.

He arrived at his present position as the head of Bank of America’s Global Banking and Wealth Management in January, after Bank of America’s $50 billion acquisition of Merrill Lynch and the departure of Merrill’s CEO John Thain.

“He has proved in difficult environments he is very capable,” said Anthony DiNovi, co-president of Boston private-equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners LP, in a Wall Street Journal article by Dan Fitzpatrick and Suzanne Craig. The article addressed Moynihan’s emergence as a right-hand man and potential successor to Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis.

DiNovi, who has worked with Moynihan on past deals, also said, “When Ken has a tough job at hand he turns to Brian, and Brian has always been there for him.”

Moynihan, who grew up in a small town in Ohio, lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts with his wife, Susan Berry, whom he met while he was at Brown, and their three children. He credits Susan’s family, along with playing rugby (which has taken him to Ireland on occasion), with bringing him up to speed on Irish culture.

“My wife’s grandmother is from Ireland so she’s more the classic sort of Boston Irish – the Clancy brothers, the Irish humor and all that stuff,” he says, adding that he’s been at many St. Patrick’s Day Parades in Southie. His own family immigrated in the 1850s to upstate New York and grew vegetables.

Our meeting took place on the afternoon of June 15, at the newly constructed Bank of America Tower at Avenue on the Americas in Midtown Manhattan. The massive steel and glass structure – a one billion dollar project – located on Avenue of the Americas – would seem to signal Bank of America’s confidence that it will weather this current financial crisis.

As I receive my visitor’s pass from Security and find my way into the inner sanctum of the largest bank in the United States, passing through a futuristic set of glass doors, I cannot help but think of Moynihan’s ancestors being processed by immigration officials after landing in New York. They could hardly have foreseen a future that included anything like this. But it is a tribute to those hardscrabble ancestors, and perhaps because he had inherited some of their tenacity and understanding “that it doesn’t all break your way all the time, so you’ve got to just power through it,” that Moynihan took time out from his hectic schedule to talk to Irish America, and agreed to give the Keynote Address at our annual Wall Street 50 dinner on August 24.


Your family came over when?

In the 1850’s. Both my parents come from small towns in upstate New York where the Irish part of their families had farms and then opened some stores. My grandfather was a lawyer up there. My dad went to school and became a chemist to work for DuPont. I’m one of eight children, number six. My parents moved to a little town in Ohio, called Marietta, the month before I was born.

After doing your undergrad at Brown you went to Notre Dame Law School. Was that a different experience?

Very different. Brown was a great school but it was very heavily Eastern. My grandfather and my uncle both went to Notre Dame, so I had a great Notre Dame tradition. It was the best place in the world to go to law school. It was a very supportive place and we had more fun than we probably should have had. It’s a great school for a lot of reasons, but the law school was small, you really knew the professors, you really knew the undergraduates. I played rugby so it was fun, too.

Do you think Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, was right to invite President Obama to give the commencement speech?

I think he was right, his reasoning was right. I think at the end of the day one of the challenges for a place like Notre Dame is to ensure that they maintain their willingness to have the debate. I think going back to Father Hesburgh [“Father Ted,” the man who led the University of Notre Dame for 35 years], the reason why the university has had such an impact on political leaders and others in this country, is that they’re willing to have debates even though they have a heritage and a particular point of view. It served them well.