By Gross, Dan
Newsweek , Vol. 160, No. 18
Byline: Dan Gross
Citi's colorful cast of CEO characters.
Showman, Lawyer, quant, jock. No, it's not the next novel by John le Carre, author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Rather, it's the intrigue-filled succession of chief executive officers at Citigroup, the massive U.S. bank that was nearly killed in the financial crisis. On Oct. 16, CEO Vikram Pandit abruptly resigned, and the company announced that he would be succeeded by a largely unknown company lifer: Michael Corbat, the fourth top boss at the company in nine years. At the time of their respective appointments, each leader possessed precisely the right qualities to make up for the shortcomings of his predecessor.
First came the showman. Sandy Weill, the up-from-Brooklyn striver, built Citi into the nation's largest financial institution. A creature of the razzle-dazzle 1990s, Weill ultimately merged Travelers Corp. with Citi, thus erasing the Glass-Steagall Act (which prohibited the marriage of investment and commercial banks) before Congress formally overturned it. But Weill's empire was full of conflicts of interest. After the dotcom crash, Citi faced a host of regulatory and legal challenges over its stock recommendations and investment banking practices. So the company turned to a lawyer to clean up the mess. Chuck Prince, a corporate attorney, brought some order to the sprawling company. But Prince's theory of extending credit seemed remarkably laissez-faire. …