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Can anyone run Citigroup? (page 5.)

By Carol J. Loomis, senior editor at large
Last Updated: January 16, 2009: 4:26 PM ET

Chronicling "net change in bank reputation" for 15 institutions, the report listed only two plus scores, Goldman Sachs (up 26%) and Royal Bank of Scotland/ABN Amro (1%). Citi wasn't last; it managed - whew! - to rank above scandal-ridden Société Générale. But as No. 14, Citi was accorded a -73% score. And in what goes beyond subjectivity to dollars and cents, a net 21% of the financial officers surveyed said they expected to do less business with Citi. The winner here was Jamie Dimon's JPMorgan Chase, with which a net 12% expected to do more business. (See correction)

Beefing up the board

It is not clear whether the reputational issue will help or hinder Citi's campaign to beef up its board, an intention made clear in a notice recently posted on its Web site. A New York business acquaintance of this writer - an executive with extensive, and even Citi-related, financial experience - recently remarked that he had thought of proposing himself as a director, believing it almost a "national service" to try to help Citi. But when he thought about how complicit the directors must have been in letting Citi get into its mess, he just couldn't quite face up to inviting himself into the group.

Pandit, it's safe to say, will strengthen his board. Already, the head of its audit and risk-management committee, C. Michael Armstrong, retired CEO of AT&T, is giving up that assignment. But in the end it will be Pandit and his team, not the board, who determine just where Citi goes. Thinking about the challenge ahead, Pandit says he's glad he came to this job while still a relatively young 51. "I have a lot of time ahead of me," he says, and therefore the luxury of taking the "long view."

Would that mean, he is asked in tones of hope, that he might not dwell on quarterly results, as so many CEOs do? Pandit wouldn't go that far: "There are very few people who truly have the benefit to sit back and think about the long term completely." Quarterly earnings, he thinks, are the "control mechanism" that keeps you on track for the long term. Oh, well, there goes hope on that point.

In Pandit's office, and just outside it, are three objects of art that provide slight relief to his generally unadorned quarters. In the corridor leading to his door is a Jasper Johns painting of two American flags. Pandit had asked that a work depicting the flag be secured for him from Citi's store of art "because though we are global, this is an American company, and we should be clear about that."

Inside his office, above its sole couch, is a very large painting of two Black Ball clipper ships on the high seas. The scene recalls City Bank of New York's beginnings in 1812, when the company's business included packet-ship sailings that occurred on a fixed schedule, whether or not there was sufficient cargo to fill the vessels.

And the third piece of art is a shadowbox on the wall that contains nine small, gold sculptures of Ganesh, a Hindu god who removes obstacles. Citi's art curator found them in storage, where the evidence would suggest they've been kept too long. Pandit can now see how they work for him as he moves along in one of the biggest, hardest jobs on the planet.

Research Associate Patricia A. Neering contributed to this article.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Citi got a 73% score in the survey done by Greenwich Associates. In fact, it got a -73% score. Also, the story orignally said that the financial officers surveyed expected to reduce their business with Citi by 21% and increase their business with J.P. Morgan Chase by 12%. In fact, a net 21% of the respondents said they expected to do less business with Citi, but did not specify how much. A net 12% of the financial officers surveyed expected to do more business with J.P. Morgan Chase.  To top of page

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