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Victor J Menezes: Outside Citi limits
Tamal Bandyopadhyay |
April 24, 2004
Victor J Menezes, Senior Vice Chairman, Citigroup:
Citigroup's senior vice-chairman Victor J Menezes, 54, the Pune-born global banker, was once seen as a possible successor to Sanford Weill, Citigroup chairman.
No wonder his decision to hang up his boots by the end of the year has taken the financial world by surprise. While some bankers are trying to find out what went wrong, most claim that Menezes' exit route is the most graceful.
By any yardstick, it has been an incredible run for Menezes. Fresh out of the Beirut Training Centre, he started out in Citi's Fort Branch Bombay operations on a monthly salary of Rs 2,000 in 1972.
Citi insiders see him as a protege of former Citigroup co-chairman John S Reed, who handed him possibly his toughest assignment in 1998.
Menezes was made the co-head of the global-investment and corporate bank, with Michael A Carpenter, at the newly formed Citigroup Inc. The surprise organisational restructuring led to the departure of Citigroup president -- and one-time heir apparent -- James Dimon.
That was also the turning point of Menezes' Citi career while his flamboyant colleagues were regularly shown the door. No wonder Reed is one of the most influential people in Menezes' life.
Others are his father Manuel (who retired as chairman of the Indian Railways) who inspired him to join the Indian Institute of Technology, mother Nina, and wife Tara.
An electrical engineer from IIT, Mumbai in 1970, he acquired his masters in finance and economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After catching Reed's eye, Menezes was named Citibank's senior corporate officer for Africa and Latin America in 1985.
In 1989, he took over the European consumer business and two years later was given charge of consumer banking in US as well. In 1995, he was named CFO following the forced resignation of vice chairman Christopher Steffen and worked on the famous merger that created Citigroup.
He joined the company in 1972 as a management associate in operations. Six years down the line, he was made CEO of India operations and in 1983, he was heading Hong Kong and China.
His colleagues in the bank say the secret of his success lies in his zeal for work, uncanny knack for keeping a low profile and wide experience across a very complicated organisational set up.
They say he is balanced, smart and quiet. In fact, they claim that his cool exterior hides his ambitions.
"He is ambitious but not ruthless. Frankly, he is a politician who can please everybody without compromising his position. He can appreciate others ' point of view," says a senior banker who knows him.
In fact, this is one quality which separates Menezes from other global Indian bankers like Rana Talwar, the former group chief executive of British bank Standard Chartered Plc. Talwar was ousted after a boardroom battle.
Menezes, on the other hand, is retiring when he is at the peak of his career. In March 2000, when he succeeded Reed as the chairman and chief executive of Citibank's North American unit, everybody expected him to bag the top job one day.
To that extent, his retirement came as a surprise. But that does not necessarily mean that he should be seen as a loser. Standard & Poor's analyst Tanya Azarchs has reportedly said: "Menezes was one of the last who came in with John Reed and one of the lucky people who can retire early".
According to an internal memo from chief executive officer, Charles Prince, Menezes will head a new Asian advisory board to help the bank expand in that part of the world.
"Victor has played a central role in Citigroup's success and to celebrate his career is to celebrate an important part of this company's history," said Prince.
Menezes' favourite vacation spot is Tuscany and Umbria and his favourite cartoon strip is Wizard of Id. And how different is he from other bankers? He does not play golf. He plays tennis.