The abruptness of Citicorp president Richard Braddock's departure has left analysts and investors scratching their heads and scrambling to interpret what it means for the company's direction.
Observers were mystified by the timing of the resignation because it came just days before the bank was to formally launch a convertible stock offering. More uncertainty in the minds of investors is the last thing the problem-plagued bank needs.
And the news inevitably renewed questions about the future of chief executive John Reed.
Does Mr. Braddock's departure remove a potential successor and solidify Mr. Reed's control of the company?
Or, in what would be an ominous sign for Mr. Reed, did his board or bank regulators force him to make his chief lieutenant a sacrificial lamb?
The way Citicorp chose to announce the resignation served only to fan the fires of speculation.
In a three-paragraph statement issued Monday after the stock market closed, the company said Mr. Braddock "chose to resign after concluding that his best contribution to the recovery of Citicorp's momentum has been realized and, accordingly, he wants to pursue new career opportunities."
Mr. Reed gave only boiler-plate praise for Mr. Braddock's "great contribution," and neither executive made himself available for interviews.
Indeed, by all signs, whatever spurred Mr. Braddock's resignation came to a head suddenly.
Mr. Braddock was reportedly in the bank Monday morning conducting business as usual, and he was said to have been in Asia last week chatting up clients as if nothing were amiss.
Even though he was Citicorp's No. 2 official, Mr. Braddock's power had been scaled back since the beginning of the year, when Mr. Reed set up a five-person senior management team.
Pei-Yuan Chia was named senior executive vice president with responsibility for Citicorp's consumer banking business, Mr. Braddock's old turf.
Management by Consensus
And Mr. Braddock was left in charge of the task forces Mr. Reed set up to study how best to improve Citicorp's performance. Those task forces officially completed their work at midyear.
Nevertheless, the elimination of the president's post indicates that management by consensus is again the accepted philosophy.
Mr. Braddock's exit "raises a lot of questions about the management of Citicorp," said Raphael Soifer, an analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.
"As we all know, John Reed is on the road a lot. That means a lot of times Citicorp is being run by committee, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me."
If Mr. Reed was forced to jettison Mr. Braddock, as some observers think, it might mean that he is no longer the quarterback.
Mr. Reed is now "effectively on the sidelines," said an analyst from a large Wall Street firm, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But the more common interpretation is that Mr. Reed is still in charge, albeit under greater pressure than ever to turn things around.
The resignation "certainly can't strengthen Mr. Reed's position," said Richard Huber, a vice chairman of Continental Bank Corp. and a former Citicorp executive. "Of the top guys, Braddock certainly seemed to be the one with the most management discipline."
"I think John Reed has consolidated power for a period of time, but how long will his board and his investors tolerate substandard performance?" asked Charles Vincent, an analyst at PNC Investment Management and Research.
Thomas Hanley, an analyst at First Boston Corp., thinks the chief executive still has a shot at glory. "The heat is on right now," he said. "But I think these events are going to force him to accelerate his internal program" of cost cutting and improving asset quality.
Mr. Reed, he said, will get full credit if the program can be successfully carried out in a relatively short period.