If Citigroup Inc.'s annual meeting is any indication of the mood among investors, banking company boards are in for an earful this season.
Throughout Tuesday's meeting in the expansive ballroom of the New York Hilton, frustrated shareholders directed their anger at Citi's directors, starting with a round of boos set off by chairman Richard Parsons' expression of thanks to Robert Rubin and other departing members of the board.
During the long debate over nine separate shareholder proposals on this year's proxy ballot, board members were asked on multiple occasions to account for their role in the New York company's troubles. One investor asked the directors in attendance to raise their hands if they were not asleep, so that they could be identified by the audience. (None responded, though presumably all were awake — it would have been hard to drift off during the sometimes loud, and frequently contentious, statements made by the famous shareholder activist Evelyn Y. Davis and a host of other investors who took the floor.)
Parsons tried to maintain calm, declaring several times that all questions were to be directed toward him and Vikram Pandit, Citi's chief executive officer. But the most vocal of the shareholders seemed to be in no mood to listen to instructions.
Pandit exuded a coolness that could only be described as Obama-esque. And that was not the only page he took out of President Obama's book.
At the start of his prepared remarks, Pandit promised investors that he would not gloss over Citi's problems and would offer a straightforward assessment of the state of the company.
He recounted what he said was a painful decision to slash 66,000 jobs, the challenge of grappling with unprecedented woes in the credit markets and the company's duty to repay taxpayers "every dollar, with interest and with great rates of returns," for the federal funds injected into the company.
On a more upbeat note, Pandit said the company sees signs of an "economic thaw" and would prepare for a "bold, new beginning" in which it would leverage off an expansive global operation that still moves trillions of dollars a day around the world. "It's not going to be easy, and there could be bumps in the road," he warned the audience. "But it can be done." Or as Obama might have worded it, "Yes, we can."