Over at the Journal today you will find a story called “Awkward Spot For Citi’s CEO,” which details the various awkwardness encountered by Mike Corbat since he took over as Chief Executive Officer, following Vikram Pandit’s awkward ousting. There is also a delightful bonus round of awkwardness that comes as a postscript to the article, but we’ll get the that later. First, why are things slightly awk for Corbat?
Well, for starters, he knew that Pandit was going to be unexpectedly and unceremoniously fired long before VP did, including the entire time they were on a business trip in Tokyo together. The whole time they were flying over there together, having dinner together, meeting with clients together, taking in shows and doing touristy things when they had downtime from the conference together, he knew Pandit was about to get hit by a truck. No one blames Corbat for Vickles being canned but, at the same time, there is a feeling by a few at Citi that you’d have to be some kind of monster to look a guy in the eye and say “Sure, a trip the the Zen Temples sounds great,” and take in the cherry blossoms and drink sake and do karaoke and fight over who is Scarlett Johansson and who is Bill Murray with him all the while knowing what was going to happen when you got home.
For Vikram Pandit, a trip to Tokyo for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conference last month seemed routine. But Michael Corbat, the longtime Citigroup executive who joined Mr. Pandit there, knew better. Unbeknown to Mr. Pandit, Citigroup Chairman Mike O’Neill had told Mr. Corbat that the board could seek Mr. Pandit’s resignation as chief executive and hand the job to Mr. Corbat, according to people familiar with the situation. A day after Messrs. Pandit and Corbat returned to New York, that is exactly what happened. A host of financial, competitive and regulatory issues confronts the 52-year-old Mr. Corbat atop the nation’s third-biggest bank by assets. But no task is more critical than soothing workers unsettled by the way the board ousted Mr. Pandit and his longtime right-hand man, John Havens, who ran the investment bank and served as president and chief operating officer. The effort is made even more delicate by Mr. Corbat’s proximity to Mr. Pandit in the days before the coup. Executives say they don’t blame Mr. Corbat for Mr. Pandit’s overthrow, though some wondered how Mr. Corbat was able to sit through the IMF meetings knowing what was to unfold.
Additionally awkward is the fact that there has been chatter around the office and scrawled on the walls of the men’s room that there’s only enough room in this Citi for one guy named Mike, and it’s not Corbat.
Adding to Mr. Corbat’s challenges is the perception among some insiders that he is overshadowed by Mr. O’Neill. Employees have privately joked that of the two Mikes, it is Mr. O’Neill who is truly in charge. People close to Mr. O’Neill dispute that notion and say he has spent little time at his Citigroup office in the past month.
Finally, you have the awkwardness of Mike not only knowing his colleague Vikram was going to be fired, but that his colleague and friend, John Havens, was getting the boot himself, which may or may not have caused auxiliary awkwardness for Corbat on the home front.
Mr. Corbat’s position is all the more awkward given his close personal relationship with Mr. Havens. The two men spent time together outside of work, occasionally vacationing with their wives at Mr. Havens’ Scotland estate.
All good examples of things that could be characterized as awkward to be sure. However, the absolute most wonderful bit of awkwardness to be found in “Awkward Spot For Citi’s CEO,” is, without question, this:
An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted Mr. Corbat as saying that upon learning he would become CEO, his emotions ran the gamut from “happiness to fear.” He said his emotions ran the gamut from “happiness to feeling humbled.”
Funny how the ear will hear “fear” when it wants to hear fear. Can you imagine being a reporter and thinking you heard the the CEO of a bank, as in the guy or girl for whom ninety-five percent of the job is expressing confidence, comment that his emotions upon hearing he’d been given the gig ran from “happiness” to “more scared than I’ve ever been in my fucking life? I mean, truly, I felt like I was going to lose my lunch right then and there. Like I was actually going to be sick. Run Citigroup, are you joking? I went back into my office and took the next hour to focus on breathing, by blowing into a paper bag. In and out, in and out. Yeah, it would be fair to I was freaking out, big time, and not in a good way, like I was excited, freaking out like there’s a car, it’s about to go off a cliff and I’m in driver’s seat freaking out. Still am, to be honest.” As that reporter, you’d probably be pretty excited, an emotion that would later turn to less excited once you got a call from someone at Citi requesting, probably not nicely, that you fix the your article so it doesn’t incorrectly quote their CEO as saying the thought of running the company gave him the actual runs. In fairness, you can see how the mistake might have been made but still: awkward!
Awkward Spot For Citi’s CEO [WSJ]
Earlier: Citi Said That Vikram Pandit Resigned Voluntarily Because That Is Corporate For “We Fired Him”; Vikram Pandit And Citigroup Not Yet On Same Page Re: Who Dumped Whom