For better and for more: The corporate wife

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By:
Abigail Hofman
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The phones of top divorce lawyers such as Raymond Tooth and Fiona Shackleton are ringing off the hook.

Abigail's biography

Citiscoop and the personal trainer thing

What’s the scoop at Citigroup? Last week, Citi merged two departments: fixed income and emerging market debt sales and trading. The new business group is called fixed income, currencies and commodities (FICC).

Paco Ybarra, former head of emerging market sales and trading, and Randy Barker and Geoff Coley, former co-heads of fixed income, become joint heads of FICC. They report to Tom Maheras, global head of capital markets. Of course, Tom who resembles an adult Harry Potter, was in charge of Citi’s capital markets’ business when over-excitable Citi traders ran amok on the MTS trading platform.

Recently, Citigroup has also been having trouble with its trading profits. Third-quarter results were dragged lower by weaknesses in commodities, interest rate products and foreign exchange. Chief executive Chuck Prince harrumphed: “Results from our capital markets-related businesses fell short of my expectations.”

Tom Maheras, global head of capital markets
Tom Maheras, who resembles an adult Harry Potter, was in charge of Citi’s capital markets business when over-excitable Citi traders ran amok on the MTS trading platform
But is this new initiative anything more than a knee-jerk response? Or worse: the result of a visit from consultants who have inserted Citigroup for Merrill Lynch on the cover of their boiler-plated presentation? Goldman formed a FICC division years ago, Morgan Stanley has one and, in July, Merrill joined the dance. I’ve never been a fan of me-too.

I’m also concerned that the senior management at the new Citi division is the same as senior management at the two old divisions. Each chief will be protecting his former fiefdom. Where’s the impetus for change? An insider disagrees with the Abigail analysis: “This is a significant development. We are finally uniting legacy Salomon and Citi businesses. There will now be a real commonality of interest.”

I tend to anthropomorphise the top financial institutions. Merrill Lynch is the bull: perfect branding as the image and personality coincide. Goldman Sachs the lion: king of the jungle. Morgan Stanley is the giraffe: lofty but slightly out of the picture. And Citigroup. Well, with apologies to Chuck, it has to be the elephant. The size of the creature is awe-inspiring. One thwack from that trunk and you are felled. Citi ranks number one in 14 out of 25 products. And last year, according to Thomson Financial, the firm was number one for the global debt, equity and equity-related category. Citibank has great franchises, such as emerging markets and debt underwriting. But for some, the bank gives the impression that the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

And why has Citi called the new division FICC just like its competitors? I am disappointed by this lack of imagination. I always think of Citigroup bankers such as Charlie Berman and Mark Watson as being ahead of the pack. “Abigail, you don’t get it,” a source snorted. “Citigroup today is run by a lawyer. The head of the investment bank, Druskin, is a former chief administrative officer. Grey is good.” That is too harsh. Yet it may be that the scoop at Citigroup turns out to be a damp squib. Let’s see what the 2007 first-quarter results reveal.

For better and for more

Everyone is talking about corporate wives. Corporate wife is married to a successful man who insists that she plays the supporting role in his career. Most investment bankers are married to corporate wives. The corporate wife is not encouraged to work either by her husband (“We don’t need the money”) or other CWs (“It’s a full-time job running our three homes. Staff need so much guidance.”).

Earlier this year, I met an older, very wealthy man who was chief executive of an international company. Rich (let’s call him that) started courting me and, for a while, I experienced what it was like to be a corporate wife. Needless to say, I was an abject failure.

What had initially attracted Rich – my independence – soon irritated him. When he had a lacuna in his corporate calendar, he wanted to see me. If I had other plans, he sulked. “Never forget,” my sister warned. “He is your job. It’s all about him.” My downfall occurred one autumn evening when Rich determined that we would organise a dinner party because: “I want to, and that’s the way it’s always going to be.” I decided to resign. With a mixture of relief and sadness, I picked up the threads of my own life. I was lucky. As a corporate wife, it can be hard to carve out your own space. Self-esteem can be eroded by the demands and pay packet of your husband’s job. Tennis lessons, shopping and light charity work may fill the hours, but can they fill the emptiness inside?

However, I hear that corporate wives are fighting back. In May, the Law Lords reinforced the worth of a married woman. They unanimously upheld a £5 million settlement to Mrs Miller whose childless marriage to Alan Miller, a former fund manager at New Star Asset Management, ended within three years. The Law Lords’ decision, which some are calling a gold-digger’s charter, has changed the demeanour of the corporate wife. Throughout the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, wives are sitting taller and talking more stridently. The phones of top divorce lawyers such as Raymond Tooth and Fiona Shackleton are ringing off the hook.

Tidal wave

Last week, I was seated next to investment banker Barry at dinner in Notting Hill. “A lot of my colleagues are going through messy divorces,” Barry confided. “Their wives suddenly turned round and said: ‘You’re boring. You’ve let yourself go and you’re fat. I’ve been a single mother for years while you’ve been working all the time. What do I need you for? I want a divorce and I’m entitled to half the assets and half your pension.’” I made sympathetic noises. “It’s not a trend,” Barry continued. “It’s a tidal wave. And in addition, there’s the whole personal trainer thing.”

I looked bemused. Barry enlightened me. Several well known investment bankers’ wives have taken to working out under the supervision of Armstrong, a Jamaican with rippling muscles and tousled dreadlocks. “Armstrong provides a ‘full service’, if you know what I mean, as well as drugs on demand,” Barry whispered conspiratorially. I choked back laughter. Memories of the Morgan Stanley wife who ran off with the tennis pro came to mind. And then there was the JPMorgan wife who was rumoured to be “doing the Pilates instructor.” All very exercising, especially if you’re the husband paying for these special sessions.

Now that corporate wife knows she can monetise her role, she may be less cooperative. To paraphrase Princess Diana – who, like me, tried and failed as a CW – the corporate wife won’t go quietly. And how galling that must be for a financier who wants to devote himself to making money without domestic disruptions. But for his wife, the words ‘bonus time’ have a whole new meaning now. What do you think?

Next week: “It’s going to be ugly with a capital U,” my source spat. “You journalists will love it.” Please send news and views to abigail@euromoney.com.

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