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Michael Corbat, 52, might be a Citigroup lifer. But even in his most senior roles – latterly as head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa and prior to that as the man in charge of “non-core” division Citigroup Holdings – the bank’s new chief executive has been a low-profile leader.
His methodical approach to banking is not the stuff of Wall Street’s legendary leaders. But it has been perfectly suited to the clean-up jobs he has had, first at Citi Holdings and then in the EMEA role.
“He volunteered to [outgoing CEO Vikram] Pandit to take on all the troubled children,” says Leo Corbett, the former chief operating officer of EMI, one of the businesses whose borrowings had been placed into Citi Holdings.
“He raised his hand and said, ‘It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it,’ and he did a really bang-up job in that role,” says Mr Corbett, who has known Mr Corbat for 20 years since the new CEO’s days at Salomon Brothers. The banker had also been “a studious board member” who grilled senior executives on their strategy, Mr Corbett added. “Having satisfied himself we knew what we were doing, he fell into a supportive role.”
In total, at Citi Holdings, Mr Corbat oversaw the sale of more than 40 businesses. He had previously had stints at Citi’s wealth management unit, its corporate bank and its commercial bank, as well as running the group’s emerging markets debt business.
Senior colleagues and friends of Mr Corbat say this kind of background and his broader approach to management make him the perfect man to take on the top job now, given the continuing challenges facing Citi. “He sets strategy, he delegates, he picks management, he determines metrics and he is very good at execution,” says one old friend.
In the eyes of the few people who are openly critical of Mr Corbat that makes him “bland” and “certainly not visionary”.
But the balance of opinion appears very positive with fans describing him as extremely bright – if not in the whizz-kid way of his predecessor.
After 29 years at Citi and its subsidiary companie, Mr Corbat has been widely seen as the natural successor to Mr Pandit for some time, though his final ascendancy has been more rapid than planned given his predecessor’s accelerated exit.
Additional reporting by Tony Tassell