When the telephone woke up Shankar Pandit at 1.30 am on Wednesday in Vashi on Mumbai’s fringe, he knew it could only be his son Vikram calling from New York. The youngest ever CEO of the world’s largest financial services company Citigroup wanted to tell his father first. By 5 am, a wide awake Shankar, 86, had summoned his three brothers to his four-bedroom flat to share the good news.
According to Forbes Global 2000, Citigroup is the world’s largest company with total assets of $2.4 trillion (September 2007). The company has over 3 lakh employees and 200 million consumer accounts in 100 countries under management.
“The competition is tough,” Vikram, 50, had told his father, uncle Manohar and aunt Sumedha when they had visited New York last month to see his new 10-room apartment.
The sleepless family is now grappling with a virtual media arrest, taking turns attending to telephone calls and television cameras.
For the boy born to a simple Maharashtrian family, life has come a long way — from Nagpur to Wall Street. Aunt Sumedha describes Vikram as “a very quiet boy and his mother’s pet”.
Vikram studied briefly at Nagpur’s Bishop Cotton School, then in Baroda and the Parsi Youth School in Mumbai. His family moved wherever his father’s job with Sarabhai Chemicals took him. It was this company, later called Ambalal Sarabhai Enterprises, that sent Shankar to New York in 1972, when Vikram was in Standard 11.
Vikram’s turning point was in Columbia University, where he graduated in engineering and did his post-graduation in electronics, besides a teaching stint. His uncle recalls, “It was there that Vikram got interested in finance and did his doctorate in International Finance to join Morgan Stanley.”
Vikram left Morgan Stanley a year back to float his own financial firm, Old Lane, when his idea of growth did not match that of the company’s. In just six months, Old Lane was acquired for $800 million by Citigroup and Vikram was invited to join its investment division.
“While Pandit has an impressive résumé, he is known more as an analytical technocrat than a charismatic leader,” reported The New York Times. “According to people briefed on Citigroup’s decision, Pandit was selected for his strategic thinking and risk management skills.”
Vikram beat candidates like Ajay Banga, who runs Citi’s international consumer banking group, and former Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to the coveted job. The search for a new chief had begun after Charles O Prince III resigned, leaving Winfried F W Bischoff as acting chief executive.
Sumedha describes the family as “religious and simple, with a lot of values”. Vikram, they say, is “surrounded by good people and loves to spend his holidays swimming at his Greenwich farmhouse, with family”.
But it is unlikely the world’s busiest banker — and the “immigrant of the day”, as a blogger called Vikram — will have time for all that now.