Lipp, 62, vice chairman of the company and a member of the three-man office of the chairman, and the long-time right-hand man of CEO Sanford Weill, always has shown a bent for do-good causes. Currently, he is president of the New York City Ballet and a trustee of Williams College.
Decades ago, when Lipp headed the consumer business of the former Chemical Bank, he took an active role in a program to help inner-city teenagers learn how to adapt to the world of big business. One of his conclusions at the time was that the students should be given appropriate clothing so they wouldn't have to feel uneasy about themselves in a business environment.
Lipp is not leaving Citigroup altogether; he is merely stepping away from its core. He will remain a director and will return to his former position in charge of Citigroup's Travelers Property and Casualty unit.
But in his wake, the cauldron at the heart of the banking company should heat up, as the time gets closer when the 67-year-old Weill will have to name a successor.
Although Weill is known for his periodic verbal outbursts, among his talents is keeping top-quality people and providing them with a vibrant, energizing environment. He is also known for maintaining good relations even with people who have been forced out of the company.
Lipp's stepping down and the promotion of younger officers is the first sign that Weill may be thinking about his succession. His problem is one of riches. Few other organizations have talent that runs so deep.
People who know how Weill operates say he will probably try to avoid the disastrous horserace that was created by former Citicorp CEO Walter Wriston. That competition created bitter factions within the organization. Weill's final test will be if he can find a way to keep that from happening.
An advantage he has is that few companies can compare with Citigroup's creativity, brilliance and success. Is Jamie Dimon, who was kicked out of Citi and now heads Bank One, as satisfied there as he had been at Citi?
Moves he took simultaneously to Lipp's stepping down may give a tiny hint. First, he named Robert Willumstad to succeed Lipp as head of the company's far-reaching consumer business. He also created two new positions, each called chief operating officer. The two named to those posts, and who report directly to Weill, are Charles Prince, 50, responsible for administration and operations, and Jay Fishman, 47, responsible for finance and risk.
But others are considered to have an equally good shot at the top job: Victor Menezes, who runs emerging markets; Thomas Jones, asset-management; Michael Carpenter, global corporate and investment banking; Deryck Maughan, vice chairman, and Todd Thomson, chief financial officer.
With such talent, Weill has a tough job ahead of him. Maybe his final coup will be to find a formula for keeping them all.