Citicorp's Navigator of the Retail Seas Plans to Keep Electronic Sails Hoisted: A Former Marketer of Underwear and Cigarettes Starts Selling Bank Services

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- If John Reed is Citicorp's skipper now, its navigator into retail banking of the future is Jim Johnson, a 39-year-old native of Chicago who once marketed underwear and Camel cigarettes but now plans how to deliver bank services electronically.

With an MBA degree and CPA certification under his belt, but claiming to be a marketing man, James W. Johnson came abroad Citicorp just a year ago and took over the development division in the U.S. consumer services group last December.

"I'm new to Citicorp and the financial service industry," he said in an interview.

"The interest Citicorp had in bringing me in was my consumer marketing background. I had some strategic planning earlier, and very early some financial experience. But I like to think of myself as chiefly a marketing person, a general manager with a marketing orientation."

His plans call for enhancing both Direct Access, Citibank's video banking service, and Focys On Line, the electronic version of an asset management service whose demise at any moment competitors and trade newsletters have expected. In the works is a family of new mutual funds run by outside managers for focus account holders.

Mr. Johnson, who turned 39 last month, succeeded Pei Chia, who was chief of the division and now runs Citicorp's savings and loan associations in Miami, Chicago, and Oakland.

Born and raised in Chicago, Mr. Johnson got a BS degree in accounting from the University of Illinois, was certified as an accountant, and earned an MBA from Northwestern University before he went to Ford Motor Co. as a financial trainee.

He joined Northwest Industries Inc. when that holding company was six months old. It was set up in 1967 to diversify the Chicago & North Western Railway. Eventually, Mr. Johnson moved into the corporate development group where he made the transition to marketing.

He arrived in New York first in 1975 as vice president of marketing for Union Underwear Co., the Northwest Industries subsidiary famed for its BVD and Fruit of the Loom trademarks in the men's and boys' underwear field.

In 1979, Mr. Johnson went to R.J. Reynolds Industries Inc. as president of its Asia Pacific division. He ran its tobacco business west of Hawaii, including a factory in mainland China.

Then he came back to the U.S. as executive vice president responsible for sales and marketing in the U.S. of all Reynolds' products, chiefly cigarettes. and last June, Mr. Johnson joined Citicorp.

"The Citi courtship goes back to 1978," he said. "I declined a job offer then. But I kept in loose contact."

He decided comsumer package goods might not be exciting for the next few decades but banking might. "I'm surprised how little the industry knows about consumers," he said.

The Development Division

As division executive of the development division, Mr. Johnson reports to Richard S. Braddock, executive vice president and group executive for the U.S. consumer services group.

The development division formerly was concerned only with new products. "The technology pieces were added this year when I took it over," Mr. Johnson said.

There are two major electronic components in the division -- Transaction Technologies Inc. in Santa Monica, Calif., and a group systems office at Melville, Long Island -- plus a half dozen business units:

* Electronic delivery systems, which include the Citicorp automated teller machine network and Direct Access, its video banking service.

* Focus, which is Citibank's answer to the Cash Management Account of Merrill Lynch & Co.

* Mutual fund activities, including the new funds Citicorp is organizing.

* The development learning center, "a unique development resource to do all sorts of consumer evaluation and testing, all sorts of electronic interfaces and simulations. …