Why Would Anyone Want to Run Citigroup?

Along with its coverage of the Treasury Department's latest and most aggressive plan to rescue and take additional control of Citigroup, The New York Times published an article today that asks, "Who would want Vikram S. Pandit’s job?"

Pandit, of course, is Citigroup's chief executive. And the question raised by The Times was rhetorical, setting up a report on the growing downside of being a chief executive at a time when bonuses, corporate jets and luxurious office accommodations have all been curtailed by popular demand — especially in the financial services industry. Plus, Pandit recently had the dubious honor of announcing that his bank lost $27.7 billion in 2008, which, as The Times notes, is one of the largest losses in corporate history. With the latest federal lifeline come strings, including a shakeup of the board as demanded by the government, whose taxpayers would own more than a third of the common shares.

Yet as recently as last fall – when the financial crisis was well underway, but the depth of Citigroup's problems were not apparent — Pandit was enthusiastic about his job. In a videotaped interview produced by Knowledge at Wharton, management professor Michael Useem asked Pandit about life at the top of Citigroup. Said Pandit: "If you don't enjoy waking up in the morning and [saying], 'I really want to go to work,' you shouldn't be doing what you're doing. A lot of us, over time, will earn the right to say, 'Stop, enough. I don't enjoy that.' Well, that's not where I am. So the bottom line is when you get into that door, you have to go in saying, 'I'm looking forward to everything I'm going to do today.' And that's what I think about when I go in."