Edward D. Horowitz's cross-over to Citicorp from the entertainment industry 10 months ago was every bit the contradiction that it appeared to be.
An outspoken and independent-minded executive who exudes the spirit of an entrepreneur, Mr. Horowitz may have seemed out of place even in an institution that has made a habit of hiring people from far afield.
Regular meetings with Citicorp chairman John S. Reed have given Mr. Horowitz, who came from Viacom Inc., a solid footing in the institution and the standing to accomplish what he was brought in to do: to focus on product and service innovations through technology.
As executive vice president of the advanced development group, Mr. Horowitz is changing the $304 billion-asset company's outlook on technology without divorcing technology from the business at hand.
"We are one organization with a singular vision," Mr. Horowitz, 49, said in a recent interview.
"We are determined to innovate. I would prefer us to be an innovative institution that harnesses technology in a unique way for the good of the customer. But I don't fall in love with technology."
Mr. Horowitz is making an impact with his forceful personality and by bringing others with media backgrounds into his 600-employee group.
One, market liaison Susan Greene, was part of an Emmy Award-winning production team on PBS programs. Josh Grotstein, division executive of global Internet/intranet strategy, came from MSNBC and Prodigy Services Co.
He has set up a structure in which each advanced development relationship manager has the head of a particular business department as a "client." The relationship manager's job is to ensure that business goals jibe with customer and technology requirements.
In perhaps the most visible indication that times have changed at Citicorp, alliances and partnerships with other companies have become the norm.
Extending the thaw that began under former senior technology officer Colin Crook, Citicorp recently became part-owner of Integrion Financial Network and Meca Software LLC and a participant in projects with the MiningCo. and the Microsoft-First Data joint venture MSFDC, among others.
Mr. Horowitz said cooperation is essential if Citicorp is to put the available technology to optimum use, and technology is essential to reaching its long-term goals.
By 2010, he said, Citicorp aims to have one billion customers worldwide. Today it has 60 million.
Mr. Horowitz's motto is that the bank will be "one click, one call, or one mile" away from anyone.
In 20 years, he said, he expects that 50% of revenues will come from electronically delivered products and services.
"To do that we cannot perpetuate that which we are doing in the physical world," said Mr. Horowitz. "Our strategy underlies our transformation from physical to electronic."
A New York native, Mr. Horowitz has a BS degree in physics from City College of New York and an MBA from Columbia University.
He began his career in 1970 at Teleprompter Cable in New York and in 1974 joined Home Box Office, where he held senior management positions until 1988.
The HBO post led to Viacom, where he was senior vice president of technology and chairman and chief executive officer of Viacom Interactive Media.
Since his arrival at the holding company of Citibank in January, he said, partnership and teamwork have improved amid a climate of vigorous intellectual inquiry and debate.
"Once an issue is closed it stays closed, and we will go ahead and build that which we thought about building," he said.
"If you ask me what I think we are, we are an information- and software- driven company" whose products contain some risk, Mr. Horowitz said.
"We manage with software," he said. "Up until now the software has been inside the legacy system-heavy server, heavy client. But moving forward, I see us very much as being a thin-client bank."
Mr. Horowitz and his group are closely entwined with operations, headed by another outsider executive vice president Mary Alice Taylor, who joined Citicorp in January from Federal Express Corp.
Once a new product is developed, it passes to Ms. Taylor's area for "production."
"The issues surrounding what we're doing relate to time-to-market," he said.
Time-to-market, a tenet of the software world, is complicated in Citicorp's case by its global reach and ambitions.
"The delicate balance is being able to create and innovate" with subsequent releases, Mr. Horowitz said.
"You can't be successful at that unless you have good connectivity on the business side, good connectivity on the production or operations side."
Mr. Horowitz said he has found common ground with his past corporate experience.
"The success or failure of what we do is based on the value of the content we're creating and our ability to bring it to market rapidly," he said. "In the television world, the concept of market share is articulated by a Nielsen rating. In the banking community, the measure of use is market share."
Just as in television, where many pilots are produced for a season but only a few succeed, Citicorp needs a product-development mentality that assumes some ideas can and will fail, Mr. Horowitz said. "There are multiple solutions to the same problem and you don't know which one is the best," he said.
"We have to go out and test-drive a bunch."
This attitude is in part behind the newfound alliance-friendliness.
"One of the things that characterizes a business looking around for change is the ability to multitask-to not only develop products internally but also to partner with people from the outside," Mr. Horowitz said.
The transformation of technology from "a heavy mainframe environment" to client/server structures and thin clients makes "the ability to partner with folks on the outside much easier."
Citicorp was drawn into a potentially pathbreaking deal with the Mining Co. because on the Internet "we need to provide communities where interests of similar people can be shared among themselves as well as with experts in the field," said Mr. Horowitz.
"That is the Mining Co.'s reason for being, so we thought we would give it a go."
Implicit in the overall strategy is both a technical openness and managerial open-mindedness. It also sheds light on the way it approaches solutions from various vendors.
Though Mr. Horowitz is complimentary about Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java programming language, which Meca Software has backed, he said he is always open to considering options even from Sun archrival Microsoft Corp.
"Microsoft is also developing a Java-like solution," he said.
"My attitude is not to fall in love with one over another. We will take that which makes the most sense, and we will surround it with what we perceive to be value-added attributes to compete in the market. If that changes because technology is changing, then we will change as well."
On Citicorp's decision to join Integrion, which is owned by 18 banks, Visa U.S.A., and International Business Machines Corp., Mr. Horowitz said, "I like the fact that Integrion will offer a bank-centered solution. I don't know if Integrion will be the winner or not. If it is, it's good for us to be there."
Mr. Horowitz's desire to see a bank-centered bill payment and presentment infrastructure underlies Citicorp's advisory role in MSFDC and his own involvement on the advisory board of the Bankers Roundtable's Banking Industry Technology Secretariat (BITS).
Mr. Reed and several of his big-bank peers are directors of the secretariat, which is strongly suggesting that technology suppliers find some common ground in technical standards.
"I would imagine that companies will recognize that they need to adapt their systems to the BITS open API (application programming interface), and that includes Integrion or Microsoft or any other company," Mr. Horowitz said.
"They've indicated a willingness to do so, so long as the banking community endorses it."
The bank's advanced development group is set to release version 1.0 of its home banking software this month, an upgrade to the Direct Access system that is one of the industry's oldest and most successful.
In keeping with the new, Internet-oriented thinking, Citi plans to enhance software continually, and customers will get upgrades routinely and passively.
"Every one of these releases will get integrated into the core product," Mr. Horowitz said. "We're just going to keep releasing, improving, and enhancing, and that's a new way for us." Because Citicorp does not charge for electronic transactions, the business case involves simply "getting more customers," Mr. Horowitz said. "If you have an Internet browser you can get to us and you can get to the product."
Although Mr. Horowitz would not disclose the advanced development group's budget, he said he has all the economic resources he needs to achieve the bank's goals.
Outside analysts are just getting to know what he is up to.
"I haven't seen many specifics yet, but my impression is that's because they are still being worked out," said Raphael Soifer of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. Mr. Horowitz's appointment "isn't a quick fix by any means," he said, and is "evidence of the bank's commitment to change."
Mildred Wulff, analyst in the digital commerce group at Jupiter Communications in New York, said that Mr. Horowitz "is ready to make sure that Citibank remains competitive" in the on-line arena. "He has been aggressive to make his mark, bringing in some outside influence," she said.
David Berry, director of research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., said "a long-term vision is important" but "doesn't always drive the financials.
It isn't clear yet if Mr. Horowitz's alliances "are profitable business propositions in the near-term sense," Mr. Berry said.
"The world that John (Reed) is interested in pursuing doesn't require technology to be invented," Mr. Horowitz said. "We're concentrating today on content and the use of technology to deliver the product and protect the rights of the individual.
"If you fast-forward three years from now and look back, I hope the reaction will be, 'Oh my God, look what they've done!'"