Thursday, September 29, 2011

Vik Pandit's Outlook- Who Really Cares?

This morning has already brought some delicious financial sector comedy my way, courtesy of CNBC and Bloomberg television.

First, a financial sector headhunter appeared on Bloomberg to pronounce UBS in possession of a "deep bench" of talent to replace recently-departed CEO Oswald Grubel.

My late boss and mentor, Chase Manhattan Bank SVP of Corporate Strategy and Development, Gerry Weiss, would have burst out laughing at the headhunter's remark. Gerry was fond of noting that, even back then, in the 1980s, money center banks had a mix of businesses much broader than most non-financial diversified conglomerates. These ranged from trading, asset management, corporate lending, custody, and trust to consumer lending, deposits, and various other fee-based businesses.

It's rare that a bank CEO was ever actually adept at managing the entire mess. Since most large bank CEOs rise through one chain of businesses or functions- institutional, consumer, or IT (think John Reid and Art Ryan), it's almost impossible to find a senior executive who is genuinely widely-experienced in most areas of a modern commercial bank.

UBS will probably be lucky if their next CEO is only as mediocre as Grubel was.

Then we come to Vik Pandit.

He was on CNBC this morning via a recorded clip, and cited on Bloomberg, as assuring one and all that the Euro-crisis will be calmly resolved. And, in an apparently coincidentally-timed Wall Street Journal piece citing the Citi CEO, Vik also wants everyone to know that his bank will be an island of stability amidst the global financial turbulence.

I always get a kick out of how the business media glorify and hang on every word of a CEO of a large industrial or financial concern who, prior to being that, was a virtual nobody.

In Pandit's case, he was a fairly anonymous Morgan Stanley middle-office executive. Frustrated by his apparent career path there, he left to co-found a hedge fund. Then had the incredible good fortune of being offered a job to head Citi's alternative investments group by non-executive, but highly-paid chairman Bob Rubin. Who, as a sweetener, had Citigoup buy Vik's Old Lane hedge fund, although it had less than five years of operating history. An absolutely unheard of deal. No large financial firms pay cash for unproven hedge fund strategies lacking long live track records.

Sure enough, Vik's fund cratered a few years later. After he had been elevated from asset management to CEO at the bank.

With that as a career background, and Citi's organizational prowess landing it in the federal ICU in 2008, why would anyone care what this overcompensated clown thinks about any economy or financial crisis?

Gerry Weiss used to tell those of us who worked for him that Chase's senior executives were so inept that most of them likely said to themselves as they looked in the mirror to shave each morning,

'God, don't let this be the day they find out that I really have no idea what I'm doing, and don't deserve the large amount of money they are paying me.'

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