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September 10, 2008

Vikram Pandit, PhD ’86, CEO of Citigroup, Speaks on Global Economic Environment

In a candid discussion, Pandit attributed the recent economic turmoil to severe global imbalances and outlined the strategy for Citigroup’s recovery.

On September 4, Vikram Pandit, PhD ’86, CEO of Citigroup, spoke at Columbia Business School as part of the Individual, Business and Society curriculum. The discussion was introduced by Dean Glenn Hubbard and moderated by Bruce Kogut, the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Professor of Leadership and Ethics and director of the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics, which oversees the IBS curriculum. The talk took place in front of a capacity crowd in Uris Hall and was broadcast live into three additional classrooms.

Pandit’s remarks focused on the challenges faced by Citi and the global economic community in the wake of the subprime crisis. “This is an environment,” Pandit said, “that is creating challenges for a lot of financial institutions around the world.”

Pandit called the financial crisis “the kind of event that happens once every few generations” and said that its passing will require the rebalancing of housing prices and behavior of the U.S. consumer, the deleveraging of financial institutions and the normalization of emerging markets against commodity prices. “Any one of these events would put us through a trying time,” Pandit said, “but we’re living in a generation in which we have to rebalance on each of these four fronts.”

When Kogut asked Pandit about the troubles he inherited when taking over at Citi, Pandit said, “The one prerogative you have as a CEO is to declare everything that happened before you to be a disaster. So let me reaffirm that I did not go [into the job] with any preconceived notion that I had to preserve, extend or enhance anyone else’s legacy.”

Pandit cited operational inefficiency as the source of many of Citi’s woes. “I will declare it a disaster here: we did not have the right software — the right operating system — on the world’s best hardware [Citi’s approximately trillion-dollar deposit base] to run this company efficiently.”

Forced to decide whether to preserve Citi as a “universal bank” or to split up its businesses, Pandit said that he chose the former in order to protect the firm’s deposit base.

Pandit cited Citi’s exposure to emerging markets as a bright spot for the future. He expects nearly one billion “unbanked” people to enter the market for financial services over the next five to seven years, with the vast majority of them coming from emerging markets. “We were in emerging markets 100 years ago,” Pandit said. “We were global when it was not cool to be global.”

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