John Havens now leads a corporate and investment bank that has defeated the efforts of nine eminent bankers to forge its promising but disparate businesses into a true global industry leader. Senior management turnover has been a constant over the past decade, as has disappointment.
To the consternation of its veteran bankers, in 2002 Weill chose a non-banker, Chuck Prince, a long-time ally and adviser from their days at Commercial Credit, to run the corporate and investment bank. Prince continued to do this even after he became chief executive of the whole of Citigroup in 2003.
Robert Druskin, an accountant by training, was next in the hot seat, staying three years until Prince, assailed by investors for growing expenses faster than revenues, plucked him out to cut costs across Citigroup, leaving the investment bank to be run once again by co-heads: banking chief Michael Klein and markets head Tom Maheras. By now Citigroup was charging straight into the wall. Vikram Pandit arrived to run the investment bank briefly in October 2007 before Robert Rubin delivered him the awesome challenge of cleaning up the almighty mess that Rubin himself, Prince and Weill had created between them.
Over the same tumultuous period, Goldman Sachs has had just two chief executives, with Lloyd Blankfein taking over in 2006, when the US Treasury beckoned Hank Paulson, who had run the firm since its IPO in 1999.
Havens, so far, seems to have at the very least a good plan. But Citigroup has always tended to have good plans. The present one is strongly reminiscent of that pursued by Robert McCormack, who ran Citicorp’s global relationship bank in 1996.
Back then he outlined a plan to Euromoney that centred on a targeted client list of 1,400 multinational corporations. The bank was then cutting the number of clients it did business with, reducing balance sheet assets and carefully constraining lending commitments to high-quality corporations, all the while leading with its transaction services expertise in funds transfer, cash management and the like. And it had that other ace in its sleeve. "What clients really want is the network," McCormack told Euromoney, "the fact that we can deliver a service which is basically the same for them in Russia or Malaysia as it is in Chicago."