As the Chairman of Citigroup, a position he's held since February 2009, Dick Parsons sticks out a bit by comparison. Whereas Citi has at times been the world's largest bloated, lumbering, diversified cathouse where, for a good while, nothing could go right, a highly flammable entity prone to one chaotic moment of shit hitting the fan after the next, that few wanted to get within 100 feet of Parsons is calm. Cool. "Flat-out smooth," as BusinessWeek describes him (which is why he was hired to be the one to go make nice with Washington, according to Vikram Pandit). The magazine recently accompanied Dick to a jazz club where they got to know him a little better, on a personal level. Here's what we've learned about DP:
* He thinks the city smoking ban sucks: "Michael E. Novogratz, a director of Fortress Investment Group, a New York hedge fund, gives Parsons a hug and presents him with a Montecristo cigar. Parsons looks pleased. "Oh man," he says, "I wish we could light these up in here."
* If you've lost ass-ton of money, he's the guy you turn to for a pick-me-up: Novogratz and Parsons exchange condolences about the market, which is zig-zagging with the turmoil in the Middle East. "I lost more money this week than I did in any week in 2008," Novogratz laments. Parsons tells him not to be so hard on himself. "Nobody knows what's going on," he says.
* Charm like this doesn't need an undergraduate degree: He went to the University of Hawaii, where he partied more than he studied. After four years, he still needed six credits to get his diploma, but he discovered that if he aced his pre-law exams he could get into law school in New York state without a college degree. He did well on the test and was accepted to Albany Law School, where he graduated at the top of his class.
* He's paid to tell people, "Just relax. Be cool.": Parsons is not a visionary; no one waits for his announcements or lusts after his products. He is, instead, a master in the art of the relationship, particularly as practiced in back rooms: the pat on the back, the well-told joke, the gossipy anecdote. He's an old-fashioned fixer who works the system with people skills and political connections. Parsons has spent a good chunk of his professional life assuaging furious employees, aggrieved shareholders, and frustrated regulators. His success is a reminder that, as much as we celebrate creativity and innovation in business, the schmoozer abides.
* He's on a nickname-basis with Tim Geithner: Parsons had a chummy relationship with the Treasury Secretary. "Timmy Geithner would say, 'Call me directly, because this is too important an institution to go down,'" Parsons says. According to the Treasury Secretary's schedule, available online, Geithner spoke frequently with Parsons in 2009.
* He has only ever freaked out once in his life: In the summer of 2002, he called Edward Adler, the company's former head of corporate communications and now head of the strategic communications practice at MediaLink, a consulting group. "The wheels are coming off the company!" Parsons told him. Adler was startled by his boss's uncharacteristic agitation. "He was freaking out," Adler recalls. "Dick's a calm guy. He never freaks out."
* He's a ladies man: The company's depressed stock price drew the attention of activist investor Carl Icahn, who built up a 6 percent stake and tried to pressure the company to break itself up. One of the themes of his campaign was that Parsons was a glad-hander rather than the hard-core fixer that AOL Time Warner needed. Parsons fought Icahn with charm. He started dropping by Icahn's office in the GM Building. "I got to know his secretaries," Parsons says. "They are always the keepers of everything."
* If you've got a birthday, it's getting celebrated whether you like it or not!: On one visit Parsons found Icahn's assistants glum at their desks. It was the boss's birthday. The women had a cupcake with a candle in it and they wanted to sing Happy Birthday, but they said Icahn wouldn't hear of it. He was brooding behind closed doors in his office. Parsons marched into his adversary's office with the secretaries and started a round of Happy Birthday. At first, Parsons says, Icahn objected vigorously, but finally he calmed down and enjoyed his cake.