Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Going Easy On Citi's Vik Pandit

Last weekend, according to the Wall Street Journal, was the third anniversary of Vikram Pandit's elevation to CEO of the ailing US bank Citigroup.

The nearby price chart of large US banks Citi, Chase, BofA, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs illustrates how miserably Pandit's institution has performed under his leadership- if you can use that word.

While all of the banks have been more or less flat for a year, Pandit's Citi plunged far lower during 2008. If you don't blame him, saying he inherited that downdraft, then you certainly can't say he did any better than any other bank since then.

In fact, it would be fair to say he essentially did nothing, and Citi benefited from a sector-wide easing of pressure on share prices.

Remember, if you will, and as I noted in posts at the time, like this one nearly two years ago, that Pandit was very slow on the trigger to change anything at Citi,

"For Vik Pandit, it's too little, too late. As the price chart for Citigroup in yesterday's post illustrated, the bank has lost nearly 80% of its equity price in the past twelve months. Surely, as others have also noted, Pandit would have gotten much more value for his shareholders had he done this early last year, rather than now.

This is precisely the sort of long term damage that results from in-denial, head-in-the-sand approaches to the actual condition of a business. By insisting on keeping Citigroup's unwieldy, difficult-to-effectively-manage business assortment intact, Pandit simply destroyed more shareholder value faster than he would have otherwise.
For this, alone, it should be time for him to go. And what more convenient time for the board, than in tandem with the guy who mistakenly hired Pandit, Bob Rubin."

The Journal, and others, are all saying Pandit has "made it," "survived," etc. Truth is, Pandit was the wrong man for the job, hand-picked by the guy who helped ruin Citigroup, Bob Rubin.

It's far from clear, from the lack of any stories concerning what Pandit ever did during the past three years, that 99 other people couldn't have "achieved," and I use that word very, very loosely, the same results at Citi to date.

It never fails to amaze me that CEOs like Pandit get time and allowances for failure or lackluster performance to which their lieutenants would never be entitled.

Next, we'll be hearing that Jeff Immelt, GE's hapless CEO, will be judged a success because, after nearly a decade of failure to perform for shareholders, he might eke out a one-time outperformance of the S&P.

From my perspective, Pandit is simply another fortunate guy who was given a job in which he hasn't done much, therefore receiving accolades for not having noticeably done more damage. However, of all the banks in that chart, only Goldman Sachs decisively outperformed the S&P for the period. None of the other banks have CEOs who were capable of delivering market-beating performance for their shareholders. But I don't believe I've read that any of those CEOs returned their large compensation packages due to those failures.

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