Citi announces new CEOs and chairman for Asia-Pacific

Stephen Bird and Shirish Apte become Citi's CEOs for Asia-Pacific, while Shengman Zhang is named chairman.

Citi announced yesterday that Stephen Bird and Shirish Apte have been made chief executive officers for Asia-Pacific, while Shengman Zhang has been named chairman of the firm in the region, effective immediately. They replace Ajay Banga who held the title of Asia-Pacific CEO and left the firm on June 19 to become president and CEO of MasterCard.

The bank also announced that Bill Mills and Alberto Verme were made CEOs of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

"No real surprises," said a Citi insider, "but it certainly underlines this increased focus on emerging markets that [Citi CEO Vikram] Pandit is speaking about all the time now."

In Asia-Pacific, Zhang will be responsible for forging and expanding relationships with clients, regulators, government officials and employees across the region, the bank said in a statement. He will also chair the Asia-Pacific executive committee and have responsibility for the governance of the franchise in the region.

As CEOs, Bird will be responsible for North Asia and Apte for South Asia (which includes Australia and New Zealand). The two will have joint responsibilities for Asia-Pacific's overall performance, strategy and execution. Bird will also continue to have regional product responsibility for retail banking and cards. The other regional product and functional heads will report to both Bird and Apte, and to their respective global heads.  

Bird, Apte and Shengman, will report to Pandit.

As one insider explained, the CEOs are responsible for the P&L [profit and loss], so they are "running their respective shows". He added: "Think of Shengman Zhang as the zen master. He will be counsel to both. Zhang has made a name for himself at Citi by opening doors in China, he is well connected with the World Bank and has strong public sector relationships ... that means maintaining excellent dialogue with regional regulators will be his continued focus, pretty important given that our focus remains on organic growth so we want to be able to open branches around the region on a regular basis."

In EMEA, Mills will continue to be responsible for Citi's business in Western Europe and Africa and Verme for its business in Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The bank said Mills and Verme will be jointly responsible for performance, strategy, and execution across EMEA.

According to an internal memo seen by FinanceAsia, "Asia-Pacific is one of Citi's most important regions, contributing close to $50 billion of revenues in the last three years. Our future is increasingly based on our international franchise -- and the Asia-Pacific region is one of the most important, as well as largest responsibilities in the company. By appointing a chairman and two CEOs, we intend to optimise our model and support our best management to help us maximise this growth."

An internal note from Pandit to the staff added: "We see tremendous opportunities in many of these fast-growing markets in Asia-Pacific and EMEA".

In 2008, Asia-Pacific contributed $15.6 billion in revenues, or about a third of the group's $52.8 billion revenues. Citi operates in 18 countries in the region.

The bibliographies

Zhang, 52, is relatively new to Citi. He joined in 2006 as vice-chairman of global banking and chairman of the public sector group. Prior to joining the American bank he spent 10 years with the World Bank, with four as the managing director from 2001 to 2005. In that role, he led the bank's day-to-day worldwide operations. He also chaired the bank's operations committee, the sanctions committee, and the corporate committee on fraud and corruption policy, and was chairman of the bank's crisis management committee.

Bird, 42, has been described by colleagues as a "young, fast-rising star" at Citi. Indeed Bird is Citi's youngest person running a region globally. He was most recently CEO for North Asia and head of consumer banking and global cards for Asia-Pacific. He joined Citi in 1998 and has previously served in Japan as CEO for credit cards and consumer finance, and as head of operations and technology for the entire Latin America franchise having moved there from Asia in 2001. Prior to joining Citi, Bird held senior management positions in GE Capital and British Steel in the United Kingdom.

Apte, 56, moves to Asia-Pacific after guiding Citi in other emerging markets. He served as CEO of Citi's Central and Eastern Europe region. Apte has served in several senior management roles in more than 26 years with Citi, including as CEO of Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa Citi markets and banking. He began his career with Citi as a relationship banker for Citibank India, and later held various assignments in corporate banking, risk management and corporate finance investment banking.

Mills, 53, was most recently CEO for Western Europe, Middle East and Africa. He previously held the position of chairman and CEO of Citi markets and banking for EMEA. Prior to that, he was CEO of Salomon Smith Barney Asia-Pacific and a member of the Salomon Smith Barney management committee. In this role, he was responsible for the firm's investment banking, equity, fixed income, private client services, and other operations conducted in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the sub-continent for the firm. Mills has been with Citi for 27 years.

Verme, 51, was most recently co-head of global investment banking, based in Dubai. Prior to that appointment in 2008, he was head of global energy, power and chemicals investment banking from 2001. Verme joined Salomon Brothers in 1994 and worked as head and later chairman of Citi's Latin America investment banking group through May 2001.

Citi in many ways needed to put forth a strong team not just a strong singular replacement for Banga who will join MasterCard on August 31. The bank has been under a constant barrage of attack for its US operations and has been continuing to put forth Asia as its star, stable growth-engine. Banga's departure didn't help it make that case even if Citi was in the same boat as every other firm out here -- nearly every month for the past six, an Asia-Pacific chairman, CEO or investment banking head has departed a bank.

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