Like Mark Twain, Citicorp chairman John Reed could well tell the world that reports of his recent demise were premature.

Over the last few years, Mr. Reed engineered one of the most remarkable comebacks in U.S. banking history, silencing critics and turning a $457 million loss in 1991 to $2.3 billion in net earnings for the first nine months of this year.

The secret: He understood that advanced technology coupled with expansion into developing markets can add up to big profits.

Not that Mr. Reed hasn't picked up a few gray hairs along the way. Since taking over in 1984, he has had to find capital to cover billions of dollars in bad loans to Latin America and then billions more to cover bad U.S. commercial real estate loans.

But even at its lowest point, when regulators forced Citicorp to halt dividend payments and raise fresh capital, Mr. Reed stuck to his vision of a bank for the 21st century.

Still only 55, Mr. Reed will probably have a few more surprises in store for the banking world before the century is out.

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