That was the allegation (*cough*) flying around last week. Several large Citigroup investors were quoted in a Financial Times story complaining that Citigroup's board was dominated by chief executives from other large companies who were sticking up for Citigroup chief executive Chuck Prince because he is one of their own.
Some of Citigroup's biggest shareholders have raised questions about the strong public support for Chuck Prince, the chief executive, from the bank's board.
The large number of chief executives from other companies on the board made it "naturally sympathetic to Chuck", said one of Citigroup's top 30 investors, who declined to be named.
This very public criticism comes close on the heels of recent controversy at Citigroup following the firing Todd Thomson, a prominent wealth-management executive at the bank. Thomson was reportedly fired in part for his relationship with bigshot CNBC on-air personality Maria Bartiromo.
In a work of amazing Wall Street jujitsu, the Thomson-Bartiromo affair seems to be fueling criticism of the Citigroup CEO. Last week, Wall Street insiders heard rumors alleging that Thomson—who was until very recently considered as a potential successor to Prince—was fired because Prince viewed him as a threat to his position. According to these rumors, the Bartiromo affair was simply a pretext to get rid of Thomson.
A source familiar with the situation at Citigroup dismisses these rumors as "pure spin" likely coming from enemies of Prince. The Citigroup CEO certainly has his enemies. Prince inherited an ungainly and perhaps unmanageable corporate structure built by his predecessor, Sandy Weill. A legacy of scandal, corporate infighting, and rumors of high level resignations and job dissatisfaction, have not helped make the job of running Citigroup any easier. Some investors and analysts have been calling for Prince to dismantle Citigroup, a move Prince has strongly resisted.
Still, even if these rumors are nothing but the whispers of Prince's enemies, this can't be a comfortable time in the executive suites at Citigroup. It's clear that the sharks smell blood in the water.
Meanwhile, CNBC and its corporate parent, GE, have stuck by Bartiromo. GE big shot Jeffrey Immelt was quoted in press reports saying, "I support Maria and I support CNBC." Last week we reported that CNBC writers were allegedly penning some of Maria's apparently off-the-cuff remarks at recent speaking engagements, including her crack that she was late to a dinner where she was scheduled to speak because she "had to fly commercial"—a sly-reference, self-deprecating to the fact that she no longer has access to the Citigroup corporate jet.
But the final chapter in the Money Honey scandal may not yet have been written. We hear that while Bartiromo is no longer involved with Thomson, she has begun seeing another Wall Street executive. But that's probably way, way too good to be true.
Citi shareholders question support for Prince [Financial Times via MSNBC]