When Vikram Pandit was ousted just a day after Citigroup reported earnings last week, he tried defuse most observers’ surprise, insisting that he had “been thinking about this for a long time”. That was a pretty feeble defense: in August he was telling people that he planned to say on as CEO for “several years“.
Thanks to reporting from Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Susanne Craig in the NYT, we now know Pandit didn’t see any of last Tuesday’s events coming:
Having fielded congratulatory e-mails about the earnings report in the morning that suggested the bank was finally on more solid ground, Mr. Pandit strode into the office of the chairman at day’s end on Oct. 15 for what he considered just another of their frequent meetings on his calendar.
Instead, Mr. Pandit… was told [by Citi Chairman Michael O'Neill that] three news releases were ready. One stated that Mr. Pandit had resigned, effective immediately. Another that he would resign, effective at the end of the year. The third release stated Mr. Pandit had been fired without cause. The choice was his.
The sources behind this new information are allies of Pandit who think O’Neil was “needlessly ruthless” and that Pandit’s performance was good, context considered. But this more detailed account doesn’t make much of a case that Pandit was mistreated. Silver-Greenberg and Craig write that “interviews with people close to the board describe how the chairman maneuvered behind the scenes for months ahead of that day to force Mr. Pandit out and replace him with Michael L. Corbat, the board’s chosen successor”. O’Neill began to work to get rid of Pandit from day one. He started with the board kept widening the circle of people who knew his intentions until Pandit had “no allies left”. Yet Pandit was “stunned”.