The upshot of the government’s bailout of Citigroup
: millions of calmed investors, 350,000 relieved employees, and one CEO who is hanging on to his job at least for a while.
Vikram Pandit’s apparent security at the helm of Citi may be a good thing. For all his faults – his failure to get a timely grip on the company’s toxic assets, his unconvincing arguments last week that Citi is adequately capitalized, his botched deal to buy Wachovia, which landed with Wells Fargo
– Pandit, 51, is an executive constitutionally opposed to risk. And that is what is now needed at Citigroup, whose stock rose 60% today to $6 – though it’s a long way from $30 a year ago.
As talent has drained from Citi at an alarming rate (as I detailed last week on Postcards), there seems to be no insider better equipped to lead Citi out of its crisis than Pandit, at this point. A year ago, when Citigroup directors sought a replacement for CEO Chuck Prince and couldn’t attract one most-desired outsider, Wells Fargo’s Dick Kovacevich, they interviewed four Citi executives besides Pandit: Latin America chief Manuel Medina-Mora, CFO Gary Crittenden, institutional clients group chairman Michael Klein and Global Wealth Management boss Sallie Krawcheck. Klein quit Citi in July, after 23 years at the company. Krawcheck, who clashed with Pandit over a variety of issues, decided to quit two months later.
Among those executives, Crittenden is the one viewed as most likely to be a Fortune 500 CEO someday. Calm, super-smart, and well-liked, he has been CFO of four Fortune 500 companies: Sears
, American Express
and now Citigroup. Amex CEO Ken Chenault is known to have hated losing him to Citi. It’s difficult to argue, though, that Crittenden, whose operating experience includes running a hardware-stores unit at Sears and overseeing Global Nework Services at American Express, has what it takes to manage a company as vast and treacherous as Citi. Spearheading a breakup of Citi – such as selling or spinning off Smith Barney and its Banamex Mexican banking business – is another matter. Crittenden could handle that well and might be willing. Pandit has adamantly opposed such a dismantling of Citi, but many investors believe that the company will not be able to avoid that in the long run.
Another insider who investors often mention as a CEO contender, Bob Rubin, is surely not one now. The former Treasury Secretary – once chairman of Citi’s executive committee and since August “senior counselor” – has consistently refused to put himself in the running. He prefers to operate in the background, no fingerprints please – and all the more so lately. My colleague Carol Loomis has written about how Rubin urged Citi management to take on more risk over the years. Sunday’s front-page New York Times story about Citi’s “rush to risk” lays more blame on Rubin, as well as on Prince.
That New York Times story was sharp and well-researched. But oddly, it never mentions Klein, who co-headed Citi’s institutional unit with Tom Maheras, the trading boss whom the story pegs as the culprit in sinking Citi into trouble with collateralized debt obligations. Klein and Maheras are known to have gotten along terribly, and their relationship contributed to the management dysfunction that has plagued Citi for years. Klein is on his own and under the radar now, surfacing once in September to advise Barclays
on its acquisition of Lehman Brothers’ North American operations. He and Sandy Weill, who built Citi, have reportedly been talking about going into business together.
Meanwhile, where is Sandy Weill, who built Citi, amidst the storm? At the middle of last week, the former Citi CEO was scheduled to head to Tanzania to speak to the first class of graduating doctors at the Weill Bugando Medical Center, a complex that he and his wife, Joan, are funding. But given the chaos in the markets, Weill stayed home to watch it play out. No doubt, he’s one of those investors breathing easier now, at least for a day.