By Katie Hunt
Business reporter, BBC News
Vikram Pandit, say those who know him, relishes a challenge.
Some say Mr Pandit does not have the experience for the job
He will have a monumental one in his new job as chief executive of Citigroup, possibly the toughest position in corporate America.
The US bank, which employs more than 300,000 people and has assets equal to the value of the UK economy, has suffered staggering losses related to the turmoil in credit markets.
The bank’s shares have slid 40% this year and trade near a five-year low.
The situation was considered so dire that a $7.5bn (£3.75bn) capital infusion by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority last month was seen as a part bailout from the bank’s near $17bn write-off relating to sub-prime mortgages.
“Nothing is off the table,” he says of his plans for the new job.
“I will undertake an objective and dispassionate review of all the businesses.”
Born in Nagpur, India, Mr Pandit came to the United States when he was only 16 for undergraduate studies at New York’s Columbia University.
The son of an Indian businessman, he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in electrical engineering before switching to finance and completing a PhD.
In 2005, Mr Pandit left Citigroup rival Morgan Stanley after 22 years.
He founded his own hedge fund, Old Lane, then sold it a year later for about $800m to Citigroup, which was keen to build up its executive ranks after a string of departures.
He was with Citigroup for just five months before being elevated to the top job.
Some investors have expressed concern that Mr Pandit, 50, has never run a public company, let alone one as big and complex as Citigroup.
He also has no experience in running consumer banking, which generates more than half of Citigroup’s overall revenue.
“There was some hope that somebody with a bigger name would be chosen, so maybe from that perspective, there is some disappointment,” says Lee Delaporte, research director at Dreman Value Management,
Its rival and fellow casualty of the credit crunch, Merrill Lynch, has won praise for recruiting former Goldman Sachs president John Thain to replace chief executive Stan O’Neal.
Citigroup’s overtures to big names in the banking industry, such as Deutsche Bank’s Josef Ackermann and Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Fred Goodwin, were reportedly spurned.
Mr Thain was also a candidate for the Citigroup job.
“Think of the people they could have gotten for this role, who didn’t make themselves available or didn’t want it,” says Henry Asher, president of Northstar Group, a New York-based money manager
Others think Mr Pandit’s low-key approach will be a welcome counterpoint to his more charismatic predecessor Charles Prince, who resigned abruptly on 4 November.
Under Mr Prince’s watch, the bank was told by one of its biggest shareholders, Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, to take draconian measures to cut bloated corporate expenses.
The softly-spoken Mr Pandit told New York magazine earlier this year that he never got into “the Gordon Gekko idea of Wall Street”.
He has few interests outside work and likes to be back at his 10-room Manhattan apartment home in time to put his two young children to bed.
Mr Pandit is one of a growing number of executives with foreign roots filling the top ranks of corporate America.
He joins fellow Indian Indra K Nooyi, the boss of Pepsico, and Sidney Taurel, the Moroccan-born chief of Eli Lilly. Coco Cola last week named Muhtar Kent, who was born in the US but grew up in Turkey, as its new chief executive.
The shift reflects the increasing emphasis US firms place on overseas markets for growth.
While most of Citigroup’s current problems stem from closer to home, the bank had said it was looking for someone with an international focus for the top job.
“I am going to focus on positioning our business for the future - around the world. I’ll be looking at our people and our culture - around the world,” Mr Pandit told the BBC.