A series of senior management changes and departures at Citicorp has some analysts confused over where the nation's biggest banking company is heading.
These analysts say the recent events reflect an instability in management that could hinder the bank as it attempts to complete implementation of a strategy launched last February to focus on a limited range of global operations.
"The level of turnover at Citicorp is just staggering," said Richard X. Bove, a banking analyst with Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, Fla. "The first thing you have to wonder about is what this means for the execution of the strategy."
Mr. Bove noted that only 24 of the 68 people listed as Citicorp's top managers 10 years ago are still there.
"In the 30 years that I have been analyzing companies across a series of industries, I have never seen a turnover rate of this proportion at this level in a corporation," Mr. Bove noted.
However, Citicorp spokesman John Morris said that "10 years is a long time in a dynamic business like banking. You can expect dramatic changes in what business is done where and what staffing levels are."
Last week, Christopher Steffen, a vice chairman hired three years ago to improve Citicorp's internal controls and organization, resigned with no explanation. He was replaced by Victor J. Menezes, who was given the title of chief financial officer.
In a statement, Citicorp chairman John Reed said, "The results of the past several years have evidenced great progress in the company's development, but there is more to do. We need to strengthen our focus on delivering performance, including productivity programs and our cost/revenue profile."
Mr. Steffen's departure follows a high-profile shake-up earlier this year, when Pei-Yuan Chia, Robert McCormack, and David Gibson were named the heads of global consumer, global corporate, and emerging market banking, respectively.
In October 1992, Richard S. Braddock resigned as president of Citicorp, also without explanation. His office has since remained empty, although there has been speculation that the position might soon be filled by Mr. Chia.
The latest management upheaval follows Mr. Reed's announcement early in the year that Citicorp would focus on a limited range of businesses, including emerging markets, global consumer banking, and relationship banking with international corporations.
Mr. Reed likened this effort to the strategies of companies like Coca- Cola Co. and McDonald's Corp. to create and build upon instantly recognizable, worldwide brand identities.
Analysts noted that although there may be some logic to Mr. Reed's vision, the bank's high turnover rate may work to Citicorp's disadvantage, preventing the plan from coming to fruition.
"They have a strategy that makes sense, because too much diversity is not a good thing," said Raphael Soifer, a banking analyst with Brown Brothers Harriman. "How well they get from here to there is another question."
Citicorp executives refused to comment. Mr. Morris, a spokesman for the $258 billion-asset company, denied that the latest executive changes reflected any management instability.
"You can't have a static organization," Mr. Morris said. "Compared with other big companies, our management is remarkably stable."
Analysts said the recent changes may be hurting the bank's U.S. consumer businesses, which it should logically be seeking to reinforce but where performance has lagged.
"I'm not a fan of their strategy and I am concerned that they're not building the U.S. domestic franchise," said Lawrence W. Cohn, a banking analyst with PaineWebber Inc.
Mr. Cohn noted that Citicorp is doing little to strengthen its U.S. consumer deposit base, faces tougher competition in its profitable credit card business, gets a disproportionate amount of its revenues from trading, and has generally mediocre returns on other businesses in Europe and the United States.
"They've got a good mix of business that is carrying them, but when you look at the individual businesses in the developed world you see some very ordinary stuff," Mr. Cohn remarked.
Citicorp's lack of interest in developing U.S. banking operations is reflected in decisions earlier this year to pull out of lending to middle- market businesses, steer away from investment banking, and largely withdraw from making acquisitions. The bank, for example, has dramatically scaled back middle-market lending operations in cities such as Dallas, and it has closed 32 branches in the New York region during the last five years. Six more New York-area branches are to be closed next year, bringing the total there down to 190.
"The company has embarked on a new, high-risk strategy attempting to provide consumer finance to households in emerging economies around the world," Mr. Bove said. "Its commitment to this strategy is so enormous that it has made the decision to let its dominant position in its traditional markets in the United States erode."
But Mr. Morris said that Citicorp's strategy makes perfect sense. "We think growth outside the U.S. will be faster, but it doesn't mean we are ignoring the U.S," he said.
Mr. Bove maintained that "Citicorp will fail in its new approach, as it has so often in the past with its tunnel vision charges, if it cannot hold its management team in place."
Other observers were more restrained in their views, saying simply that they wondered how Citicorp's latest moves will play out. "It's such an opaque organization, it's difficult to know," said Mr. Cohn.