Last night, for the first time in what seems like forever, Vikram Pandit had some good news. "I am most encouraged with the strength of our business so far in 2009," the Citigroup CEO typed in a memo to employees. "In fact, we are profitable through the first two months of 2009 and are having our best quarter-to-date performance since the third quarter of 2007." True, their share price was at just over a dollar, but this was a small victory, and Vikram was proud. He pressed send and went home to the Beresford feeling full of hope. He maybe even skipped a little on the way.*
But then early this morning, the joy dissipated when, while eating a congratulatory jelly doughnut — even in difficult times, he deserved a treat once in a while, Vikram reasoned — his eye fell upon The Wall Street Journal.
U.S. Weighs Further Steps for Citi
Regulators Plan for Contingency if Problems Grow at Wall Street Bank
A small bit of powdered sugar trickled onto the page as his mouth opened in dismay.
This was so unfair! The article was about how although Citigroup executives said things seemed to be on track for the bank, the government was holding discussions about "contingency planning" in case "Citigroup takes a sudden turn for the worse." Adding insult to injury, the headline about his memo — which was much smaller and underneath — was headlined, "Pandit Cites Citi's 'Strengths.'" With "Strengths" in quotes, like they were being sarcastic! And did they really have to mention that Citi's share price had plunged to "ignoble" levels? Because that was just mean. Vikram put his head down on the paper and let out a sob.
"Swati! he yelled. I need a gold bar!" In the other room, his wife rolled out of bed and unlocked the safe containing the gold ingots Vikram had purchased with proceeds from the sale of his Old Lane hedge fund to Citi several years before. It was still dark when Vikram began rubbing the gold bar smoothly up and down his cheek. By the time the morning light broke, he was calm.
UPDATE: Citigroup's Park Avenue HQ, noon. Workers down below hear a rumbling coming from somewhere upstairs, along with strains of Beyonce's "Diva". Is someone doing a victory dance? They wonder. Their suspicions are confirmed when a shout of "Suck it, Ken Lewis," echoing faintly through the halls. Things are feeling pretty good.
* We imagine. This is a dramatic reenactment.