Bob Willumstad, President of Citigroup

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This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, July 29, 2003, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: From rebuilding inside the company to just plain, well, building. Citigroup (search) hammering away outside the marketplace. The company making a major contribution to community build day where some 35 financial institutions team up to build homes across the country with Habitat for Humanity.

Joining me now with more on all of that and all the goings-on at Citigroup, the company’s president Bob Willumstad.

Mr. Willumstad, good to have you.

BOB WILLUMSTAD, CITIGROUP PRESIDENT (C): Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

CAVUTO: This is a nice thing to do, huh? What’s the goal?

WILLUMSTAD: Well, the Financial Services Roundtable, which is an organization representing a hundred of the largest financial services companies, partnering with Habitat for Humanity to create an event to show that banks and financial services companies have been giving materially back to their community, but we thought creating an event like this -- we did it last year for the first time.

And this Saturday, August 2, there will be 35 companies, as you mentioned, involved in building across the country, 13 cities in the United States, and, actually, this year, we’ve added London. So I will be out there with my bib overalls and a...

CAVUTO: Are you handy with a hammer and all that?

WILLUMSTAD: I actually am pretty handy.

CAVUTO: Are you really?

WILLUMSTAD: Yes. So I’m actually looking forward to it. It’s a great experience not just for people like myself, but for employees of all of our companies. It gives them a sense of giving back.

And you get to meet the family who is involved in the build. They put in their sweat equity. The families themselves actually wind up buying the house. They have a no-interest mortgage, interestingly enough.

And it creates a certain level of community revitalization as well as creating some level of dignity for the inhabitants of the house. It’s a great experience for everybody.

CAVUTO: You know, it’s interesting, the timing of this, sir, as you know, because I’ve heard analysts refer to you and Charles Prince, the now successor to Sandy Weill, trying to put a new face on Citigroup, that this is the same company that had to pay out $400 million to settle, you know, fixed-trading charges with the government not too long ago and yesterday better than a hundred million dollars to deal with the whole Enron mess.


CAVUTO: You’ve got a lot of dirty laundry in your past, not you specifically, but Citigroup. Can you get past that?

WILLUMSTAD: Oh, I think so. I think, you know, obviously, the events of the last 18 months have been difficult for the company.

We think we’ve made significant changes in corporate governance, in the business practices within the company, and we’re trying to actually take these events and turn them into an opportunity for us to show some leadership.

So the kinds of things we’re doing and I’m involved in with Habitat actually go back for several years. I’ve been on the board of Habitat for a number of years. So I think this is one part of an event and a chapter that, hopefully, we can put behind us.

But the company’s results have been terrific, as you know, and we expect to keep that momentum going.

CAVUTO: Yes, there were reports on the inside, sir, that when a lot of these allegations came out about what analysts were pumping and all that, that you were personally really revolted by it, and then the company, obviously, got into these settlements. You know, a lot of investors were revolted by it. Can Citigroup get back its good name?

WILLUMSTAD: Oh, I think so. Understandably, the events were serious, and we take them serious, but I think when you look at the breadth of Citigroup doing business in a hundred countries around the world, I think our customers have voted with their feet.

We’ve had terrific results. We’ve continued to grow our business and gain market share, but at the same time...

CAVUTO: So you don’t think it’s a trust issue with your company, or, for that matter, we should stress here this is widespread in the brokerage industry -- or was. So you think trust is returning in general?

WILLUMSTAD: I do, but I think we have to earn it back and I think it’s incumbent upon us to do the right things and earn that trust back. We certainly do not take the public and our customers’ trust for granted.

CAVUTO: Let me ask you something, and I was mentioning it before you came on, and you were very gentlemanly about it, but I’m going to ask it anyway.

You’re a headhunter’s dream,. You got passed over for the top job at Citigroup, but you’ll be the most influential number two, I think, in the history of corporate America, and headhunters, obviously, feel that you’re a man in demand. Have a lot of people been calling?

WILLUMSTAD: Nobody’s called yet. So, if you offer me a job today, that will be the first offer I’ve gotten.

CAVUTO: Well, now it’s interesting that Sandy Weill went to great lengths to make sure both you and Mr. Prince could work together and stay happy together. You got a lot of money to secure that you stay where you are, including $14 million in secured stock. How likely are you to stay exactly where you are?

WILLUMSTAD: As you said, this is probably the best job in America, certainly in financial services. Chuck Prince and I, along with Sandy, have been partners for 17 years. We started back in Baltimore when no one would have ever believed that what we were doing then was going to...

CAVUTO: You’ve got to be a little disappointed, right?

WILLUMSTAD: Well, I certainly, you know, had expectations for myself and for the company. I certainly had some expectations as well. But this really is a partnership. Chuck and I, as I say, go back a long time, and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity. This is a great platform and a great place to do business with some great people.

CAVUTO: Do you take Sandy Weill at his word that he will, indeed, leave in a few years?

WILLUMSTAD: I do. He seems very comfortable with his decision. He’s really been very focused on making this a smooth transition, and, quite frankly, Chuck and I would be thrilled, you know, to have him continue in the role that he’s articulated and outlined for himself, which is, obviously, doing a lot of traveling, maintaining relationships with governments and customers, and he’s an icon in the financial services business, and we can use all the help we can get from him.

CAVUTO: Mr. Willumstad, I’d be remiss if I didn’t get your thoughts quickly on the market. I’ve been noticing with guests prior on this show that it seems to move in a whipsaw with just the slightest news out of Iraq. Is that still a dominating theme?

WILLUMSTAD: Well, I’m not sure it’s Iraq, and I know the consumer confidence number today was a lot lower than people expected. I was actually surprised by it because...

CAVUTO: Yes, everyone thought it would move up.

WILLUMSTAD: Not only move up, but you know, we’ve started to see some in our retail consumer business, especially our credit-card business, we’ve seen some improvement in credit-card sales and activities.

So the consumer in the U.S. still looks to be carrying the load, and, obviously, the mortgage market continues to do well even with the most recent uptick in rates.

CAVUTO: But do you believe that confidence number, or is it an...

WILLUMSTAD: It was a great surprise to me, and again, it’s hard. It’s hard. I really expected to see a much stronger number.

CAVUTO: All right.

WILLUMSTAD: So it’s a surprise.

CAVUTO: All right. Mr. Willumstad, again, to have you. Congratulations again.

WILLUMSTAD: Thank you.

CAVUTO: And best of luck on this undertaking.

WILLUMSTAD: Appreciate it. Thank you.

CAVUTO: Bob Willumstad. He is the president of Citigroup.

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