He's the former head of Citi Holdings. He's a former Harvard University football star who was feverishly recruited by the National Football League. Now, at age 52, Michael Corbat is Citigroup's new chief executive officer.
The selection of Corbat puts in charge a longtime executive who's made shrinking Citi the cornerstone of his work in recent years. Here's the Bristol, Conn.-born banker describing his work in an interview with American Banker magazine in July of last year:
"In some ways, all the banks out there have a 'Holdings.' We just chose to declare ours upfront," Corbat said at the time. "What that's done culturally is it's created a lot of clarity within the organization."
So much so, Corbat added, that in a company of 260,000 people, "you can ask in about any country, at any level of the company, 'What's our direction? What's our mission? What, as a company, are we focused on? And you will get a very clear, articulated response from our employees in terms of what that is: we're going back to our roots of being a bank, and as Vikram describes us, we are America's global bank."
Corbat has never left a job: he got his Wall Street start as a salesman in Solomon Brothers' storied fixed income division and stuck around after Citi bought it. Before the financial crisis, he headed a number of major Citi operations: global emerging market debt, global corporate and commercial banking, global wealth management.
But what earned Corbat the most attention was his work cleaning up Citi after it received a financial crisis bailout.
Assigned to Citi Holdings, the company's "bad bank," Corbat oversaw the disposition of 40 units, ranging from its subprime finance division to its stake in Primerica. His job was effectively to conduct fire sales on the best terms possible, a challenge that Corbat admitted was difficult in interviews with American Banker.
"You owe the employees the intellectual and moral honest of telling them their businesses are for sale," Corbat said. But "you've introduced this uncertainty that probably doesn't age that well."
All told, Corbat disposed of $500 billion in assets; Citi continues to shed businesses. Along the way, the corporate restructuring and relative economic stability convinced Citi to move some assets — such as its partner cards division — back into the main company.
Corbat has been cited in the past as a top candidate for Citi's top job, although not the only one. The Wall Street Journal cited Jamie Forese, head of the institutional client group's securities business, and Jane Fraser, head of Citi' private bank and a major participant in the company's restructuring. As other possible candidates. What did come as a surprise is the suddenness of Pandit's departure.
Expect to hear plenty in coming days about Corbat's time as an Ivy League jock. Business Insider this morning quoted the following from a 1982 soft profile in the Harvard Crimson:
"He's All-Ivy and a Perfect Team Player," the story declares, noting the cafeteria staff's fondness for the offensive guard. "If football had always been my main goal then I would have gone to some scholarship school I could have gotten more exposure there," he says.
What might not come off quite so soft in future tellings are the reasons behind this morning's sudden departures of Citi's top two executives. Early indications are that they were more likely driven by Citi's board than by regulators.