Letting someone go - especially a high profile CEO - is never easy business, though Citigroup Chairman Michael O'Neill gets the booby prize on how not to do it, according to a behind-the-scenes account in the NYT.
Vikram Pandit's last day at Citigroup swung from celebratory to devastating in a matter of minutes. 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, the chief executive of Citigroup, was told 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 abrupt encounter, described by three people briefed on the conversation, included a terse comment by the chairman, Michael E. O'Neill: "The board has lost confidence in you."
Turns out that O'Neill had been plotting Pandit's termination for many months. He started out by meeting with less-satisfied board members and then neutralized the others until Pandit had practically no supporters left. Way to go, Mr. O'Neill - you've just made Pandit look like the fall guy, which no doubt enhances his reputation in the banking business, and made yourself look like a complete jerk in the process. But wait there's more:
As Mr. Pandit was reeling from his encounter, three board members confronted John Havens, the bank's chief operating officer and a longtime lieutenant. "Vikram has offered his resignation, and we would like to give you the opportunity to offer yours," a board member said, following a script prepared by the board's lawyers, according to several people with knowledge of the meeting. Startled, Mr. Havens briefly challenged the directors, pointing to the solid performance of the institutional clients group, and then relented, saying his resignation would be on Mr. Pandit's desk within five minutes.