Vikram Pandit: Rearranging Executives in Order to Hide Behind Them?

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Lots of management shuffling at Citigroup today: Eugene McQuade, of Freddie Mac, Merrill Lynch, and FleetBoston, will join the company as chief executive of the Citibank unit, while Bill Rhodes, who was occupying that position, will give up that role but continue as Citi’s senior vice-chairman. Ned Kelly, who was appointed CFO in March, will now become the bank’s vice-chairman, while John Gerspach, the bank's controller and chief accounting officer, takes over the role of finance chief (he'll be the third person to take that job this year, by the way, and the fifth in five years). Meanwhile, the CFO before Kelly, Gary Crittenden, who has been doing something for CitiHoldings, is leaving the company "to relocate to Utah and spend more time with his family and pursue other business interests." Then they're all going to take one step to the left, cross their right foot over, and spin around to the tune of "Achy Breaky Heart." In a memo, CEO Vikram Pandit explained the changes:

“Our relentless focus on executing against our strategic priorities at Citi continues as we remain focused on rationalizing Citi Holdings, and on Citicorp as our core operating business,” Vikram Pandit, Citi’s chief executive, said in a statement Thursday. “The senior management changes I am making today will further help in positioning our company for the future.”

Not to mention, it might distract from the relentless focus on himself.

As Breaking Views points out, replacing Ned Kelly should please FDIC head and noted Pandit critic Sheila Bair, whom Kelly clashed with when the FDIC intervened in Citi's planned purchase of Wachovia back in October, suggesting Bair was overstepping her bounds. And as the former president and chief operating officer of FleetBoston, new Citibank head Eugene McQuade has a retail and commercial-banking background — precisely the kind of career experience that Bair has publicly grumbled that Pandit lacks. Plus, even though it's basically a bunch of dudes switching seats, the moves look like action — the first the company has taken in months. The question is, will it be enough to save Vikram his job?

Is Citi Making Nice With Regulators? [BreakingViews/NYT]