So now we know how much it costs to buy off the chief executive of American Express—$10 million. That’s the compensation package for incoming Citigroup chief financial officer Gary Crittenden disclosed today in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That’s about twice what he was making as chief financial officer of American Express.
But is it enough? Some people in the banking industry we spoke to today have their doubts. They wonder if Crittenden could have been enticed to leave his job at American Express, where he has a long history and a loyal base that might have eventually boosted him up to the chief executive slot, for the disclosed compensation package. So was he offered or promised more?
Now, by way of background, Citigroup has a history of luring top executives away from their companies to work under the Citi umbrella. (And, yes, we know that metaphor doesn’t work any more. Just try to keep up.) Before Crittenden there was Sanford Bernstein chief executive Sallie Krawcheck, who was hired on by then-CEO Sandy Weill to clean up a scandal-wracked brokerage division. She went on to become chief financial officer before returning to the brokerage after the latest scandal-tinged reshuffling at Citi saw Todd Thomson, a former chief financial officer and head of the brokerage unit, leave under a cloud of lavish spending and inappropriate use of a corporate jet to transport CNBC
stewardesss anchor Maria Bartiromo around the world.
So maybe it’s just so sweet working for Citi that any executive would jump at the chance. But doubts persist (notice the weasely passive tense there we use to conceal that the doubters are us and some folks we talk to) that Crittenden would leave AmEx for the chance to work for Chuck Prince. After all, Chuck isn’t exactly a legend like Weill, and being the chief financial officer of Citigroup isn’t exactly like being put in charge of cleaning house after a serious financial scandal. Rumors had it that the job was so awful—and the details of the awfulness were never clear but we can guess that boring, thankless and Sarbanes-Oxley were a part of it—that Sallie Krawcheck was practically jumping out of her skin to get back to the brokerage.
But what could they have offered Crittenden? A source who has never worked at Citigroup and therefore has little credibility offers this completely irresponsible speculation—they offered him the chief executive spot once Prince retires.
The major problem with this notion is that it leads directly to the question of why Sallie Krawcheck would stick around Citi if she wasn’t expecting to score the chief executive spot. With Thomson out of the way, she faced little internal competition. And surely her network inside Citi is good enough that she’d know if Crittenden had been promised the top slot. We suspect that if Krawcheck knew that succeeding Prince was out of the question, she would leave Citi altogether. She certainly doesn’t need the money, and even if she did there are plenty of other Wall Street firms who would be all too eager to score someone of her stature.
So we’re faced with a paradox. It’s not entirely plausible that both Krawcheck and Crittenden would both be at Citi if either one of them had been promised the top slot. And it’s not entirely plausible that either one of them would be there without such a promise. Yet there they both are.
Facts are stubborn things. Is there a way to untie this Gordian knot? Well, perhaps they’ve both been promised the top spot. If that sounds way too scheming, too much like something out of HBO’s “Rome”—well we suggest you do some reading up about what happened when Citicorp and Travelers merged. Short answer—Citicorp head John Reed and Travelers boss Sandy Weill shook hands and agreed to jointly run the place. Next thing anybody knew, Reed was gone and Sandy sat alone at the top of the newly minted Citigroup.
There’s always the more innocent answer, of course. That is that neither Crittenden nor Krawcheck have been promised anything, and will both spend the next few years fighting to establish themselves as the CEO-in-waiting. Which, come to think of it, sounds like it will have exactly the same result as the two promise paranoid theory. Pick your poison. Either one sounds like it should make for some interesting times at a Citigroup facing the world without its umbrella.
[Note: An earlier version of this item incorrectly identified Crittenden as the former CEO of American Express.]
Citigroup Lists Crittenden Pay [Wall Street Journal]