Things are pretty bad at Citigroup right now: its tier 1 capital, while above
the federally-mandated level of 6%, is below its own internal target of 7.5%.
But things were much worse in 1990, when that same ratio was just 3.26%. Back
then, the very existence of Citicorp as a continuing entity was in doubt; now,
with a market capitalization of over $160 billion, the bank remains a giant.
But in the December issue of Euromoney (behind a subscriber firewall, alas),
there’s an interesting
column saying that in terms of leadership, at least, Citi was much better
off then, under John Reed, than it is now.
What did Reed and his board do? They rolled up their sleeves and went to
Reed… set out a two-year turnaround plan to rebuild margins and operating
earnings to absorb credit write-offs; he slashed the expense ratio from 70%
to 55.5% and the bank raised capital, shedding assets, famously placing shares
with Saudi prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, and selling cumulative preferred stock
with a hefty coupon to institutions.
The bank’s top 15 executives met for one full day every month to hammer
through these plans. It was painful and difficult. But, arguably, it was Reed’s
and the bank’s finest hour…
The difference, this time, is that the bank lacks leadership…
Corporate governance, proper management accountability and avoiding payments
for failure are questions Citi and the whole industry must urgently confront.
The sight of senior executives disappearing with their huge pay-offs at the
first signs of trouble, leaving a giant mess for others to clean up, is the
most disgraceful aspect of the whole wretched business.
Clearly, there’s only one thing for it. Bring back John Reed as CEO!