When John Thain first took over as CEO of Merrill Lynch in the spring of 2008, he didn't know how badly messed up the company was. (That's why he felt comfortable spending a million bucks of the company's money renovating his office, he has said.) Like an Acme cartoon character, Thain didn't realize he was sitting on a vast pile of dynamite until the wick actually began to smolder. Though he was able to extract himself from that situation by engineering the quickie sale of the firm to Bank of America, his reputation suffered mightily, and people wondered if he'd ever work again. As it turns out, the answer is yes!
Thain has just been tapped to run CIT Group, the small-business lender that recently emerged from bankruptcy after being driven straight into the ground by its previous CEO. While some board members are worried that Thain's past might cause problems — especially with regulators — it's really a win-win situation: CIT group needs a driven leader to bring them back to profitability, and who better than someone who is desperate to reclaim his reputation? As for Thain, he's got a bit of a running start, in that at least this time, he knows for sure that the company he's working for is completely, definitely, 100 percent screwed up. There's nowhere for either of them to go but up. Mazel tov!