Not Going On TV And Telling Regulators To "Regulate This [gestures at crotch]" Working Out Pretty Well For Mike Corbat

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Back in the day, as in pre-financial crisis, it was okay-- nay, encouraged-- for a bank chief executive officer to conduct himself in a brash, swaggering manner that communicated a general message of "I do what I want and if you don't like it, suck on this." Regulators were peons to be told where to go, the pages of the Journal were a place to thump their chests. San Pietro was a place for holding court while knocking back 9 martinis. If you didn't like what they had to say, too damn bad.

Somewhere in the last couple years, though, things started to change. People no longer wanted to hear executives who helped cause the global financial crisis tell the world why they were right and you were wrong. Responding to calls that enormous bonuses struck an out of touch tone by inviting CNBC into their offices, dropping trau, telling the cameraman "you're gonna wanna zoom in on this," and rolling around in a pile of money with abandon was no longer as effective as it once was. Regulators no longer took kindly to receiving FedEx packages that included photographs of CEOs using pages of, for example Dodd-Frank, as toilet paper with a gold star atop that read "You tried."

Some bank execs have been slow to catch on to this shift. Mike "can you spell that again" Corbat is notable in that he has not.

Michael L. Corbat, head of one of the biggest banks in the world, recently strolled through Marea, the Central Park South restaurant where Manhattan’s elite go to be seen. No one in the crowded room even looked up. A top New York lawyer dining there that evening was asked about Mr. Corbat. “Mike who?” he said. Flying under the radar appears to be just fine with Mr. Corbat — and with Citigroup, the financial giant he has run since October 2012. To be a prominent face of Wall Street at a time when banks are feeling the heat from federal authorities on a number of fronts clearly has its drawbacks. Mr. Corbat’s counterpart at rival JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, has been widely viewed as the point man for the bank as it wrestles with investigations by at least seven federal agencies, several state regulators and two foreign nations. And under Mr. Dimon, JPMorgan has in just a few years gone from a Washington favorite to a magnet for government scrutiny. The low-key approach taken by Citigroup — which faces a number of investigations of its own — has not gone unnoticed inside JPMorgan. Some board members and executives there have recently pointed to Mr. Corbat in privately discussing the apparent advantages of a more self-effacing approach in a chief executive...The change for Citigroup has been swift. Before Mr. Corbat took over, for example, the Fed dealt an embarrassing setback to the bank in 2012, when it failed the bank on the so-called stress test, an important measure of financial health, rejecting its proposal to buy back its shares. Just a year later, however, with Mr. Corbat at the helm, the bank handily passed the stress test. Its stock is up more than 40 percent since he took the top job.

Indeed, after he became chief following the ouster of Vikram S. Pandit, Mr. Corbat told advisers, including the public relations chief Edward Skyler, Susan Kendall, the head of investor relations, and John C. Gerspach, the chief financial officer, that he wanted to maintain a low profile, focusing on meetings with regulators, clients and analysts...That approach has even managed to win over one of Wall Street’s most vocal bank analysts, Michael Mayo, who had been a vociferous critic of Citigroup before Mr. Corbat’s appointment as chief. At the bank’s annual meeting in April, Mr. Mayo, whose approach to the microphone at such meetings usually involves a critical remark, lauded the bank. “The Mike and Mike show is off to a great start,” Mr. Mayo said, referring also to the bank’s chairman, Michael E. O’Neill.

If the Mayo love seems inconsequential, consider that not too long ago, the analyst was giving former chairman Dick Parsons two weeks to resign, talking public trash about the bank's ATMs, and releasing the oh no he di'int statement that "Asking Vikram Pandit about the crisis in capitalism is like asking Alec Baldwin about airplane etiquette."

Quiet Boss at Citigroup Setting Tone for Wall Street [Dealbook]

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Mike Corbat's Got Two Choices For Citigroup Employees

Choice number one: everyone starts earning more money for the bank, following an exhilarating pep rally run by Corbat in the cafeteria involving senior executives shooting Citi swag into the crowd out of tee-shirt guns, cheerleaders, and  a Spartacus Workout demo and before/after shots of MC, meant to inspire people and show them what they're capable of if they really put their minds to something. Choice number two: Bank of America-style layoffs. Michael Corbat, new chief executive officer, says he wants to run a more efficient bank. That means rousing or cutting one of Wall Street’s least productive workforces. Citigroup generated about $206,000 of revenue for each employee through the first nine months of the year, down 7.5 percent from the same period in 2011, while rivals including Wells Fargo & Co. posted increases, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Excluding a one-time writedown of $4.7 billion, Citigroup’s productivity rose less than 1 percent...“It’s likely they will have some sort of headcount- reduction program more in line with Bank of America, which is looking to get rid of about 10 percent of employees,” said Erik Oja, an equities analyst at Standard & Poor’s in New York. “Having the lowest revenue per employee is something they will have to address, and growing the revenues is pretty tough right now with net interest margins falling and loan growth so low.” Pandit probably was distracted from his cost-cutting goal as he grappled with public rebukes while trying to sell unwanted assets, said David Knutson, a credit analyst with Legal & General Investment Management America in Chicago, which owns Citigroup debt. Disposing of Citi Holdings assets remains “the elephant in the room,” he said. “He had a lot of plates in the air, and there were a couple of setbacks,” Knutson said. “Expense cuts are painful, and you’ve got to gore some sacred cows,” Knutson said. “You can’t do that if you don’t have an explicit mandate, if you don’t have focus and you’re hamstrung with legacy issues.” Citigroup Productivity Worst of Big Banks Shows Challenge [Bloomberg] Earlier: Mike Corbat Will Torch The Fat Off Citi Like He Torched The Fat Off His Abs

Mike Corbat's Wife Is Gal-Pals With The Wife Of One Of The Guys Abruptly Fired The Day He Was Named CEO, And Other Things Making His First 100 Days At The Top Awkward

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 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 getting 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 person 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. But! The absolute most wonderful bit of awkwardness to be found in "Awkward Spot For Citi's CEO," is, without question, this: