IIf it's a list of powerful American women, chances are Sallie Krawcheck is on it. After all, with $1.7 trillion in assets under management at Citi, she runs the world's second-largest wealth management division, and has a reputation-earned during her years as an independent-minded securities analyst-as "Mrs. Clean." Asked if she gets tired of answering the same questions about her ascent, she answers with her characteristic sense of humor: "It's better than working."
It's no wonder: work has been a little turbulent recently. Krawcheck became CEO of Citi Global Wealth Management in early 2007, amid a crisis that cost her predecessor his job. A few months later, CEO Charles Prince was forced out as subprime-related losses mounted. Meanwhile, Krawcheck - whose division also includes the private bank, investment research and Smith Barney retail brokerage-is trying to keep her clients calm amid a gut-wrenching financial crisis.
"Nobody who is running a successful business would underestimate the importance of the blocking and tackling that had to occur during the past year," says Krawcheck, who had led Citi's Smith Barney unit successfully from 2002 to 2004, and returned to her expanded role after a three-year stint as Citi's CFO. Global Wealth Management has been described as one of Citi's highlights by CEO Vikram Pandit, and it was one of only two divisions that posted a profit in the second quarter. "For us it's been about staying on strategy, and we've had to spend a lot of time communicating to our financial advisors, our bankers and our clients about what's happening," she says.
Krawcheck admits it took some serious focus to stay on strategy, given the rough waters her division faced. In the twelve months ending June 30, Global Wealth Management net income fell three percent to $1.7 billion, while total client assets fell seven percent. Blame lies partly with Citi's crashing hedge funds; compensating investors cost her division millions of dollars.
However, the numbers have held up comparatively well considering market conditions, and compared to Citigroup's firmwide staggering $7.6 billion loss in the first six months of 2008. Revenue was up 21percent in the 12 months to June 30, at $13.6 billion, with a profit margin of 13 percent.
Focusing on strategy has meant staying busy with the game-changing details. In the past year, Krawcheck reorganized her business divisions to reflect client categories, including ultra-high-net-worth, high-net-worth and emerging affluent clients, instead of product silos. This year she also launched myFi, short for My Financial life, a program for the emerging affluent. This year she also raked in a big share of the Japanese brokerage market with the purchase of Nikko Cordial, the country's third largest brokerage firm.
With all these preparations, Krawcheck seems well-positioned to ride the market recovery when it happens-although she doesn't expect miracles any time soon. She expects her numbers to remain depressed for "the foreseeable future."
Experts say the experience she has gained in very diverse positions over the past fourteen years will serve her well. "I can't think of anyone better than Sallie to have a steady hand at the tiller during these very volatile markets," says Keith Stock, president of First Financial Investors.
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