Todd, Maria & Citigroup; Poor millionaires; Why ABN may regret losing Cameron
I was flattered when a chief executive emailed: “Abigail, are you the Euromoney honey?” but in business school they teach that there is no second mover advantage. The real money honey is Maria Bartiromo, the Sophia Loren look-alike anchor of the Closing bell programme on CNBC.
Maria melts men. This Christmas, I watched a repeat of her Six of 2006: the six top interviews of last year, including chats with George W Bush, Ken Lewis of the Bank of America and Robert Nardelli, formerly of Home Depot. And the woman gets away with murder: she pouts, she widens her dewy eyes and then pounces with a killer question. As the victim squirms, she smiles sweetly and calls for an advertising break, cooing: “We’ll be back shortly.”
Unfortunately, one man who won’t be back shortly – or not to his Citigroup desk anyway – is Todd Thomson. Todd used to head the bank’s wealth management unit. Announcing Todd’s departure in late January, Citi’s chief executive, Chuck Prince, barked at reporters that Todd was off “because Sallie [Krawcheck] is taking his job.” In fact this turned out not to be the whole story. It was a tale of two women, not one. Sallie got Todd’s job because of Maria. Apparently, Todd and Maria enjoyed a close friendship – so close that he insisted on flying back from China alone with her in the company jet. Disgruntled Citi colleagues were allegedly forced to fly home commercial. I cannot imagine how the conversation went. Did he say to them: “I’m bumping you off the private jet because I need to be alone?/I’m not well?/I don’t like you anymore?” You have to admire Todd’s inventiveness. And surely the rumours we hear that the esteemed Robert Rubin, Chuck’s senior adviser and Clinton’s treasury secretary, was left stranded in Shanghai can’t be true?
But isn’t Chuck being slightly sanctimonious? Why fire tactile Todd? If not, why not simply reprimand him and make him repay the cost of the jet jaunt from his ample salary?
And what of Sallie, Citi’s former chief financial officer? Once spoken of as a Citigroup CEO in waiting, she’s returning to her old job of head of wealth management. Where’s the career progression in that?
But I am pleased to report that the money honey glides on, inviolable. CNBC is standing by her. A network statement insisted: “Maria Bartiromo... works tirelessly around the world in the service of business journalism.” She had disclosed the China trip beforehand as a legitimate business assignment. I understand that Maria has registered the name money honey as a trademark in a quest for world domination. “Move over Marilyn,” I say.
And talking of bankers and winsome women, check out the website www.pocketchangenyc.com. The site, dedicated to the Big Apple’s most expensive goods and services, reviews dating service Serious Matchmaking Inc and invites you to their ‘Natural selection speed date’. “Pocketchange is honouring the age old union of wealthy men and hot girls,” cackles Janis Spindel, the matchmaker who runs the service. Guys are selected according to their bank accounts, girls according to their bodies. Men need a minimum of $1 million invested assets and $4 million of entrusted assets (is this a technical term? I am bemused).
Ms Spindel, clearly no women’s rights activist, continues: “Guys know that money buys them the car, the house and the trophy wife. This genetic cleansing is how the wealthy stay beautiful.” I see a small problem: after a while, love spelt M.O.N.E.Y. palls. And the trophy wife might work out that she can have the house without the husband. Suddenly, the swaggering master of the universe is reduced to an asset-stripped member of the nouveau pauvre.
In an earlier column, I wrote: “When everyone else is on a roll, it’s much worse if you’re trudging through the snow clad only in a pair of underpants and with no umbrella.” Now I am receiving reports that the underpants brigade is growing. Amid all the buzz about City wealth and sizzling bonuses, it seems that firms have been practicing discrimination. Those who performed outstandingly are well rewarded, but payments to laggards are limp. “It’s not a case of a rising tide lifting all boats,” a mole grumbled. Today, such large numbers are bandied about that you feel a failure unless you earn more than $10 million. In Canary Wharf, they have a name for this sinking feeling. They call it the “poor millionaire” syndrome.
Barclays Wealth estimates that £19 billion of bonus booty will be distributed in the United Kingdom this year. A large proportion of this is destined for the property market. I am not surprised therefore to learn about the Verbier investment adventure of another swashbuckling Citigroup hero, Charlie Berman. Charlie, co-head of European fixed-income capital markets, has decided to dabble in a scenic Swiss hostelry. Berman recently corralled a consortium of financiers and purchased a majority stake in the Verbier restaurant Chez Dany. But one crony, who was invited to share in this exciting opportunity, saw things differently. Says crony: “Charlie called me and said: ‘It’s 5 million Swissie, are you in?’ I replied: ‘Charlie, you must be out of your f***ing mind. No.’”
Apparently, the actual level of investment required was slightly smaller – or, as one debt syndicate wag would have it: “Allocations were reduced when syndication went better than expected”.
The Abigail with attitude column couldn’t comment on the merits of the investment but Berman assures me that a major refurbishment is intended. “We have exciting plans for the ladies’ loos,” he emailed. Wild horses won’t keep me away next season.
Once the work is complete, of course! The curse of Euromoney?
What on earth is happening in Bishopsgate, home to the London headquarters of ABN Amro? Barely a month goes by without some kind of upheaval atop the glass atrium of the Dutch bank’s building.
This week, Euromoney broke the news that ABN was reorganizing its global markets business under the leadership of Gary Page. Reporting lines are being realigned. A new structured finance division will mean a more integrated approach to pitching debt solutions to clients rather than pitching on a product-by-product basis (allegedly).
Insiders gush that the equity and debt divisions will have “more room to breathe” by having the divisional heads report directly to Page. Nice to know the old management structure was suffocating them. Perhaps we should send over oxygen masks? Sportsmen tell me that a sticking-plaster-style strip over the bridge of the nose can help as well.
The victim in all of this is Niall Cameron. His role as head of traded markets has been made redundant. He is now ‘on consultation’, as the investment banking industry coyly puts it before they ease you out the door. Cameron has been one of the few positive things about ABN in recent years. He was at Merrill Lynch in the glory days of their debt division in the mid-1990s and then joined ABN’s capital markets division. Cameron scored some wins: his team were innovators in structured credit, where they made a lot of money in 2006 with the invention of the CPDO. ABN’s debt trading team is one of the market’s best, ranking sixth overall in Euromoney’s poll last year, ahead of luminaries such as Barclays and Citigroup.
So why is Cameron on the way out? Could it be the curse of Euromoney, which only this month nominated him as one of the rising stars of the firm? We must assume he has lost a power struggle somewhere in the firm.
In the meantime you could make several omelettes out of all the eggs covering ABN’s senior management’s faces. The traded markets division that Cameron headed was only set up in April 2006. Ten months, and some success later, it’s defunct.
Perhaps it doesn’t pay to be too successful at ABN. No doubt the other clever people who helped build the structured credit division will be looking over their shoulders. Perhaps they are doing it already. In an interview with Institutional Investor in September 2006, ABN’s CEO Rijkman Groenink made the following, startling admission: “After several years of trying to make the wholesale bank function with an acceptable level of profit, I realized that we had to bite the bullet and accept defeat.” My guess is this won’t be the end of the upheaval at ABN. What do you think?
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