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Business

Dec 12, 2007

Citi – buy a hedge fund and get a new CEO for free

On Wall Street, a price chart says it all. A quick glance at Citi’s price chart reveals that the global financial powerhouse is currently trading at about the level it was trading at in 1999, which is depressing for shareholders and very frustrating for employees, writes Matt Marks.

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On Wall Street, a price chart says it all. A quick glance at Citi’s price chart reveals that the global financial powerhouse is currently trading at about the level it was trading at in 1999. Given the phenomenal bull market run we’ve had since mid-2003, a flat share price on eight years ago is depressing for shareholders and very frustrating for employees.

Citi has therefore made a bold and interesting move in the appointment of their new CEO, Vikram Pandit. Interesting in that he is firstly new to Citi and very interesting in that his recent background includes alternative assets and the company’s investment banking and fixed income division.

Vikram Pandit, like most Wall Street CEO’s, has a blue-chip resume including a PhD in Finance at Columbia and was president and chief operating officer of institutional securities at Morgan Stanley. His more recent history however will raise some question marks over what he brings to the table amongst executives who work in the commercial bank.

He came to Citi in April when Citi decided to buy the hedge fund, Old Lane LLC, which he had jointly established only a year earlier. Given the fund had only been open for such a short period of time, Citi was clearly interested in getting Vikram rather than a fund which had unproven performance. One financial blogger described it as “Executive recruitment run amok“.

In what were prophetic words, Vikram Pandit said at the time, “Partnering with Citi — one of the world’s largest and most well-respected financial services institutions — is a highly compelling opportunity and one that makes sense for both our clients and colleagues.”

While it has certainly made sense for Vikram Pandit, the jury is still out on Citi’s alternative asset business and interestingly two acquisitions that it has made since Old Lane, have involved firms run by former Morgan Stanley employees.

Let’s hope for long-suffering Citi employees and shareholders that Vikram Pandit delivers, because eight years of a share price moving sideways is not a good look.

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