Ex-Citi chief still on the go

Weill keeps eye on his $850 million in Citigroup stock along with favorite charities

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October 12, 2006|By Bloomberg News

NEW YORK -- Sanford I. Weill, Citigroup Inc.'s former chairman, is still absorbed by the fortunes of the world's biggest financial services company six months into his retirement.

Even though he has relocated to a new, 10,000-square-foot office in the General Motors Building overlooking New York's Central Park and spends his time on philanthropy rather than finance, it's the tabletop computer screen displaying Citigroup's stock price that draws Weill's attention.

"Fifty-one dollars!" Weill said in an interview last week, pumping his fist in the air as Citigroup shares inched past a two-year high. "You heard it here first."

Weill began his career as a stock runner for Bear Stearns Cos. in 1955 and eventually took over consumer lender Commercial Credit Corp. in Baltimore, which he built through mergers into financial powerhouse Travelers Insurance Co., which became Citigroup in yet another merger.

Now he concentrates on charitable causes such as Carnegie Hall, the 115-year-old performance center in Midtown Manhattan, and Cornell University's medical school. The 73-year-old Weill is one of Carnegie Hall's biggest benefactors and chairs its board of trustees.

He's also the third-largest individual shareholder of Citigroup, with about $850 million in stock. Every $1 move in the share price changes Weill's fortune by $16.6 million. Citigroup fell 44 cents to $50.38 yesterday in composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

"You can tell how a company is doing by how the stock's doing," he said. "I guess I'm addicted to watching stocks, especially one whose symbol is C. That's harder to break than thinking about business every day."

From his new surroundings on the 46th floor, Weill also monitors Citigroup's credit rating, the key to the company's ability to borrow cheaply and lend at higher rates. Moody's Investors Service gave Citigroup's U.S. banking unit its top Aaa score on Sept. 26. "We worked on that for six years," Weill said.

Weill stepped down as Citigroup's chief executive officer in 2003, handing the reins to Charles O. Prince III. When Weill retired in April, Prince, 56, a lawyer who has worked with him since 1986, also became chairman.

Weill said he's fulfilling a pledge not to meddle in Citigroup or criticize his successor, even as the company's stock, up 13 percent in the past year, lags behind gains of 30 percent or more at rivals Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

In his 17 years as Citigroup's CEO, Weill made more than 100 acquisitions to turn Commercial Credit Co., a moribund consumer-finance company in Baltimore, into an institution with 300,000 employees, a head office on New York's Park Avenue and more than $1 trillion in assets. Citigroup's shares rose 28-fold during Weill's run.

Weill's legacy was tarnished during the past three years as Citigroup paid more than $5 billion in fines because of regulatory and legal scandals.

"He's an icon, and like all icons, they're known for accomplishing a lot, and for the certain things that didn't work," said David Hendler, an analyst at CreditSights Inc. in New York. "He's not the young guy he was 20 years ago, when he competed at a very high energy level."

Weill declined to comment on recent criticisms by investors such as Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Citigroup's biggest individual shareholder, who complained that the bank's expenses are too high.

"I haven't talked about what the company is doing or not doing," he said. "I really don't know. You may know more about what the company is doing on an up-to-date basis than I do."

Weill, a Brooklyn native who built two business empires in Shearson Loeb Rhoades and Citigroup during almost five decades on Wall Street, isn't used to taking a back seat.

In The Real Deal: My Life in Business and Philanthropy (Warner Business Books, 2006), a book of memoirs that just went on sale, Weill recounts sparring with Citigroup's former co-CEO, John Reed, over the company's Internet strategy and other ventures he deemed too costly.

The book, co-written by Judah Kraushaar, a former analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., details Weill's frustration with Jamie Dimon, Citigroup's former president and the current CEO of JPMorgan, the third-biggest U.S. bank. When Dimon, now 50, failed to keep his boss in the loop and clashed with his colleagues, Weill fired his protege and probable successor in 1998, he recalls.

"My problem with Jamie is that he started excluding me from things that were happening," Weill said.

Reed and Dimon, both of whom sat for interviews with Kraushaar, declined to comment for this article.

Weill joined Carnegie Hall's board in 1982, and the concert center named a recital hall after him and his wife, Joan, for their donations. The couple gave $100 million in 1998 and another $100 million in 2002 to Cornell for what's now called the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College.

President Bush asked Weill in November to join a delegation of U.S business leaders in raising private funds for victims of the earthquake last year that killed more than 74,000 people in Pakistan and India.

Weill gave $5 million in May to the National Academy Foundation, a program he chairs and helped start that finances the college education of underprivileged students. He donated $3 million in June to establish a deanship at the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Weill enjoys retirement. "This summer I was away nine or 10 weeks. I haven't taken that much time off since I was in my mother's womb."

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