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Dear John Thain: Five Ways to Rehab His Image


And pointing the finger at Bank of America isn't one of them.

John Thain is a talented guy and he'll recover from Monday's stellar effort to shoot himself in both feet.

Thain is making the basic mistake of a snippy college kid who got bounced from his first job: He's bad-mouthing his former employer.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the former head honcho at Merrill Lynch says Bank of America (BAC) lied about its role in awarding bonuses and the losses that cost Thain his job in January.

File this under "dumb things smart people do."

These days CEOs are about as popular as lepers and Thain plays into the populist disdain by saying, in effect, "I didn't do it, so don't blame me."

Instead, Thain should present his side and make no comment about Bank of America, its motivations or its actions. If Thain is more or less right, the facts will speak for themselves and those who care about the issue will figure it out.

Bank of America handled Thain's interview perfectly - it made no comment. In an email to the Journal, spokesman Robert Stickler said the company "stands by statements it has made."

Thain shouldn't toss bricks at his former employer. He should say he's puzzled by Bank of America's prior statements - leave out the hurt/personal anguish/sleepless nights bit, Big John. If anyone asks, Thain should then release correspondence, including emails, to back his position - even if it's not exactly kosher. After all, he's in a fight to keep his career alive and the game isn't beanbag.

Thain's whining suggests he's forgotten that those who don't care about Wall Street or the fate of its CEOs don't figure in his future career plans. Is it possible that Thain, like many weasel-like politicians, just wants to be loved? If so, he might take President Truman's advice and get a dog.

Next, Thain needs to spend some time in the wilderness. He doesn't have to write a book like President Nixon after Watergate, and presenting himself as The Wise Old Man of the Mountain would put him on the fast track to oblivion. Instead, Thain needs to pound nails like President Carter after he lost in a landslide to President Reagan in 1980. In short, Thain needs to step back and get his hands dirty to make a comeback possible. Making a splash in the Journal isn't exactly roughing it.
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