If the names we’ve received are any indication, the choice of who should be Citigroup’s (C) next CEO isn’t exactly obvious. Just the reverse! All sorts of suggestions have landed in the e-mail box—some perceptive, others oddball, and everything in between. Here, in no particular order, is a sample of reader nominations, along with my take:
“How about Vernon Hill? He’s available and he’s used to Fed scrutiny. I’m only half serious—but wouldn’t it be interesting?” TKB: Of all the suggestions we got, this would definitely be the most fun to watch. I haven’t asked Vernon, but I suspect he’d rather eat hot tacks than go anywhere near Citi.
“Lewis Ranieri can do the job. He knows the business, will command immediate respect by all parts of Citi and will be trusted by the outside world.” TKB: I’m not so sure if I can see Ranieri running what was once Walter Wriston’s bank. Maybe it was those lunch scenes in Liar’s Poker.
“My suggestion: Robert Wilmers at M&T Bank. And while they are at it, why not buy all of M&T?” TKB: There aren’t many bankers more capable than Bob Wilmers. The most interesting part of a possible Citi buyout of M&T, though, would be watching to see what Warren Buffett would do with his Citi stock.
“I would recommend Ken Chenault of Amex. He knows the New York banking crowd, he knows bankers all over the world, and has a global view of a major business.” TKB: Mark me down as skeptical. I don’t know Chenault well, but he’s always struck me as a big-company, status-quo guy. That happens to be perfect for Amex at the moment. But Citi could stand some shaking up. (If I’m wrong about Chenault, by the way, pop me an e-mail and tell me why.)
“How about a Jerry Grundhofer or Richard Davis from USB? I know they may be loyal to USB but Citigroup seems like a big enough challenge to draw one of these guys away.” TKB: Great idea! U.S. Bancorp under Jerry was one of the best-run big banks around. (It still is.) But by the time he was done there, he was pretty aware of the disadvantages of size. I don’t know if running Citi would interest him. Richard would be great choice, but my sense from him is that he’s having too much fun running USB. He’s certainly started to make some good things happen there.
“Donald Rumsfeld has the chops, and is incredible smart and energetic. He knows people and has integrity. He’ll do the right thing.” TKB: You know what? Shock and awe could be just what Citi needs.
“Your first choice, Dick Kovacevich, would be perfect.” TKB:You bet he would!
“IndyMac CEO Mike Perry is 45 years old and has the ambition and energy to push Citi to the next level.” TKB: Perry’s a very bright guy, but he’s got a lot on his hands with IndyMac at the moment.
“How about Sir John Bond, CEO of HSBC from 1993 until 2006? That would certainly be a reputation enhancer for Citi.” TKB: I have tremendous respect for Bond. My guess, though, is that the Citi job would require more time and energy than he’s prepared to give at this point in his career.
“Mike O’Neill: CFO at Continental (successful turnaround); CFO at BofA (very large bank;) CEO at Bank of Hawaii (incredibly successful turnaround). Not afraid to break things up. . . Great public company CEO. . . Invests his own money. . . Compensation depends on results. (Nobody else does that).” TKB: I like it! You’re right. Mike is a truly impressive banking executive. And if memory serves, the turnaround at BOH consisted of business divestitures and asset dispositions at a company that had become too far-flung and unwieldy. That’s just what Citi needs.
“Bob Lipp comes to mind. Or the board could let Rubin break it up and get some of us a return on our investment. Citi could lose 10,000 employees and not even notice.”
“Why not Vikram Pandit, who might break up Citi, and who has a record of generating great returns at Morgan?” TKB: Nah. When was the last time Vik Pandit was in a retail bank branch? My guess: never.
“Gary Crittenden has lots of experience with troubled companies and with restructurings.” TKB: Not a bad idea, but I’d rather see a business line manager get the job. I’m a big Crittenden fan--and you can’t say that Citi’s problems occurred on his watch, either. He’s only been with the company since March.
“My choice would be Tony Terracciano. He’s shown a willingness to shake things up where ever he has worked. Plus, he’s a proven cost cutter and is respected by Wall Street. Tony has always been driven by improving shareholder value.” TKB: Tony T! Let’s bring back the old war horse for one more go-round. Just one question. Who would he sell Citi to?
“What about Dave Coulter? He was CEO of Bank of America, and the bank did very well until he lost a power struggle with Hugh McColl.” TKB: Coulter would be great. He may be having too much fun over at Warburg Pincus, though.
“Al de Molina is the ideal candidate. He’s the smartest banker in the industry and a guy that consistently attracts top talent.” TKB: I agree.
“What about Josef Ackermann from Deutsche Bank?” TKB: Jawol! Herr Doktor has a proven ability to take a sprawling, flabby, unfocused organization and whip it into shape. That’s exactly what's called for at Citi now. Plus, white-collar prosecutors here aren’t nearly as nutty as they are in Germany. Ackermann’s legal bills would plummet.
“I bet Hugh McColl would love the limelight again. . . ” TKB: Don’t get me started! The last thing Citi needs is a guy whose career consisted of diluting his shareholders with one overpriced acquisition after another. McColl was never able to generate meaningful organic growth at BofA and its predecessors—and organic growth is exactly what Citi needs to show now.
“My guess is that high on Rubin’s list would be his former trusted lieutenant: the brilliant, abrasive Lawrence Summers. Summers has administrative experience from his days at Treasury, the World Bank, Harvard, and now at Shaw. Summers has balls, his track record shows that he is not averse to saying things that are unpopular. He might even have the guts to oversee Citi’s break up. . . ” TKB: Now that would be entertaining! I don’t have the exact numbers, but I suspect that a clear majority of Citi’s employees are women. How do you suppose they’ll react when they find out he thinks they’re not especially good at arithmetic?
“Send in Wilbur Ross. He has a proven record of turning around messes.” TKB: Perfect! Ross has already begun investing in subprime, after all. Who knows what other messes he’ll find in the bowels of Citi that he’ll learn to love, as well?
“Charlie Scharf. I’m a Citi shareholder, and would love to see a Jamie Dimon clone at the helm. Charlie has a lot to offer, and working as the wing man for Jamie can't hurt. He probably can take an out-of-the-box view of Citi, since knows the company well. Possible negative: Charlie might still have some friends over there who he knows are not pulling their weight. Would Charlie ax them? I sure hope so!” TKB: As you know, I’m very positive on Charlie.
In the end, the only repeat votes we got were for guys I nominated in the first place: Dick Kovacevich, Charlie Scharf, and Al de Molina. Beyond that, the race seems wide open. If you have a nomination of your own, by all means e-mail me!
Disclosure: We have a position in IndyMac.
Tom Brown is head of BankStocks.com.