There's almost too much awk to handle in today's New York magazine story on Vikram Pandit but we're going to attempt to get through it, for you. Each moment of second hand embarrassment for Tickle a Vickle and the franchise at large makes us feel torn between a) standing up and declaring that we believe in Pandito and his diversified whorehouse and b) trampling old ladies as we make a disorderly line for the exits, setting fire to nearby buildings as we GTFO.
Like when VP tells writer Joe Hagan he's been keeping up with the jokes at his expense, particularly those which regard job security. On the one hand, he's able to laugh about this stuff, which is good, and perhaps indicates a thicker skin than we thought? On the other, it kind of sounds like nervous laughter that's about to segue to tears preceding a meltdown on the floor of the C-suite.
Pandit is trying to keep his chin up. "Look, I don't want to leave until the job is done," he tells me late last week. "I don't want to lose the opportunity to put this company in the right place, because I believe I can do it." Not everyone agrees, of course, and the consensus is that he might already have been replaced at Citi if the government could find anyone willing to take the thankless job. ("The funniest blog was e-mailed to me by a friend," he jokes wanly. " 'Pandit Gets to Keep His Crappy Job.' ")
And then there's the uncharacteristic but increasingly frequent screaming and cursing. This is a side of Count Vikula we've never seen and kind of like. Maybe he should be getting angry! Maybe calmness no longer works. Maybe some well-placed outbursts and threats to "fucking kill you" are the spark the Big C needs, and being on HR's shit list is never a bad thing. On the other: Nobody make any sudden movements. We're all going to get out of here alive.
Pandit and Citi had relied on what amounted to the legal version of a handshake to secure the deal with Wachovia. And they dragged out the process while trying to separate Wachovia's wealth-management division from the rest of the company, feeling it had too much overlap with Smith Barney. (Lew Kaden told a private group, "We've got 15,000 complainers, we don't need 15,000 more.") Pandit left just enough room for Wells Fargo to swoop in with a bid for $7 a share and snatch the bank out from under Citi.
Pandit was beyond infuriated. After learning of the coup during a middle-of-the night phone call, he angrily demanded to senior executives at Citi that they pull Wells Fargo's credit lines. "Pull their fucking lines!" he screamed. "Pull their fucking lines!" A senior executive in the room calmly explained that Citigroup had no business with Wells Fargo. There was nothing they could do. Ultimately, Citi filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo for breaching what Citi considered an exclusive deal.
Increasingly, Pandit was acting out of character, barking profanities in the hallways. One former Citi executive says that the head of human resources expressed concern about Pandit's expletive-laced outbursts he'd had in the C-suite. (Pandit denies any such outbursts.) The Wachovia incident, says one longtime friend, "was the first time I have ever seen him go nuts."
"Engineer"? Or plumber, up to his elbows in shit?
Pandit has very little time to use whatever power he has left to try to turn things around at Citi--news of the Treasury deal sent the stock plunging to a historic low. A friend jokes that the CEO is the "MacGyver of the private sector banking system," out to "save Citi before the timing device runs to zero." But Pandit has never seen himself as the hero type. He looks at the problem with the eyes of an engineer: "My job is to figure out which pipes go where and which pipes have to be cut off, which pipes have to be unclogged," he told a close associate. "It's going to take me a year and a half to two years and then the water will flow, and when the water will flow, the stock price goes up. The stock price goes up, everybody will come around."
And then there's this. Maybe it's what Citi needs: an adorable ball of dork, lacking your typical CEO sheen. Or maybe we should just turn the whole thing over to this guy, one of five people in the world that can rescue the dump: