Former Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill told CNBC on Thursday that he was bullish about the bank’s future after it tapped Jane Fraser to be its next top executive, calling her a “natural leader” who can bring about future growth.
“I’m thrilled that they chose a woman, but I’m more thrilled that they chose a woman who has done a phenomenal job over the last 16 years at Citi in just everything she’s ever had the opportunity to manage,” Weill, who remains a shareholder, said on “Closing Bell.”
Citigroup, the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, announced earlier Thursday that Michael Corbat intends to retire in February after 37 years at the firm, with the last eight spent as chief executive officer. Fraser, who is currently president and the head of its global consumer banking unit, is set to become the first woman to lead a major U.S. bank.
Fraser, 53, joined Citi in 2004 and has worked in a variety of roles including overseeing its Latin American operations. With banks facing pressure as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Weill said he thought Fraser’s background made her well-positioned to navigate the years ahead.
“Jane, after she came to Citi, headed up our strategy for about three years, and she spent time also at [McKinsey & Company] so I think she knows a lot about strategy, but she also knows a lot about how to run the businesses hands on and she has empathy for people,” Weill said. “I think Citi has an unbelievable opportunity in the future.”
Weill, who left Citigroup as CEO in 2003 and retired as chairman in 2006, was a notable figure in the company’s history. He helped turn it into a sprawling financial institution in the late 1990s, upending banking rules when he brought together his Travelers Group and then-Citicorp.
Weill defended Corbat against criticism over how the bank’s stock has performed during his tenure, saying he “inherited a real mess from his predecessor.” Citi shares are up a little over 40% since Corbat took over in October 2012, while JPMorgan Chase, for example, is up about 140% in that period. Bank of America shares have risen well over 150% in that time.
Citi’s stock is down 36% this year alone, as the financial sector faces the burdens of the pandemic’s economic consequences. Weill said that if anything, that year-to-date performance gives Fraser “a great opportunity to really have incredibly good performance.”
“So I’m happy to be a Citi shareholder with Jane at the helm, and I’ve been happy with Mike. I think that Citi is in a very good position,” he said.