Pandit could be Citi CEO, Willumstad its chairman

Pandit could be Citi CEO, Willumstad its chairman

As Citigroup prepares to choose its new chief executive, there is speculation that Vikram S. Pandit could become the bank’s CEO and Robert B. Willumstad might take the chairman spot.

Pandit, 50, the head of Citi’s institutional clients group, is widely seen as a financial expert who could guide the bank out of its current troubles. Still, he has never been the head of a public company, and he has never handled the kind of consumer banking that is one of Citi’s core businesses.

Willumstad, Citi’s former chief operating officer, understands the internal workings of the financial empire. He has long-time consumer banking experience, allowing him to take charge of that division while Pandit learns the ropes.

Pandit has been savvy about playing down his interest in the job. When asked in April about his ambition to one day become Citigroup’s chief executive, he shot back: “Let me be blunt. None." But associates say that in the last few months he has warmed to the possibility.

Citigroup’s next leader will inherit a balance sheet battered by exposure to subprime assets, a workforce bracing for major job cuts and a consumer lending business that could be slugged by a US economic slowdown.

Analysts say Citigroup’s balance sheet problems could spark a major asset sale at the bank. CreditSights takes that a step further, speculating that smaller rival JPMorgan Chase & Co could buy Citigroup and boost earnings substantially by cutting operating expenses, adding Citigroup may have to consider a dividend cut, a major asset sale or even a takeover.

©2007/The New York Times