John Reed may be best remembered for joining Citicorp with the Travelers Group to create America's largest financial services organization, but his legacy lies with a drive for international expansion that brought Citi to the brink of disaster even as it established the firm as a global power.
Mr. Reed, who announced Monday that he will retire in April as chairman and co-chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc., is credited with overseeing the company's international growth, particularly in consumer banking. It now does business in 100 countries and has retail capabilities in 70.
"Citibank was an international organization long before Reed's time, but the whole global consumer strategy, and especially [the buildup] of its international network, that all took place under Reed," said Raphael Soifer, an analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.
Mr. Reed joined Citi's overseas division in 1965, after receiving a master's of science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Nine years later he was heading up new technology efforts for global consumer banking, by 1982 he had become vice chairman, and in 1984 he was named the company's chief executive.
Things got bumpy in the late 1980s, while Mr. Reed was chairman. That was when Citi was forced to set aside $3 billion in provisions toward credits to emerging markets. Those problems were followed by soured domestic real estate loans.
That Mr. Reed was able to solve Citicorp's capital problems and restore its health without merging it with another bank in essence made the creation of what is now Citigroup possible, said Mr. Soifer. "The Travelers merger wouldn't have been as attractive to Citi shareholders" if not for Mr. Reed's efforts to revitalize the bank in the 1990s, he said.
Mr. Reed is also credited with pushing Citicorp's use of new technology, including automated teller machines and electronic commerce. Calling him "one of the most innovative bankers of the past century," American Bankers Association executive vice president Donald G. Ogilvie said Mr. Reed "has revolutionized the way Americans bank."
Mr. Reed's departure comes at a time when the company has finally located a figure whose international clout rivals his. Robert E. Rubin, the former U.S. Treasury secretary who became chairman of the executive committee of the board in October, shares that international perspective, said Catherine Murray, an analyst at J.P. Morgan.
Mr. Rubin has insisted that he was not interested in any share of the chief executive position at Citi.
Sanford I. Weill, co-chief executive with Mr. Reed, will take over the latter's responsibilities until his own retirement in two years.
Discussing Mr. Weill's global outlook, a senior British banking executive, asking that he not be named, said Travelers "was an all-U.S. business and Sandy was very much an all-U.S. man."
But Mr. Weill "has got a good nose for a deal," the banker said. "He'll be much quicker to buy market share internationally."
James R. Kraus contributed to this story.