"WRISTON: Walter Wriston, Citibank, and the Rise and Fall of American Financial Supremacy" by Phillip L. Zweig
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"WRISTON: Walter Wriston, Citibank, and the Rise and Fall of American Financial Supremacy"

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A journalist's painstakingly thorough audit of Walter B. Wriston's stewardship at Citicorp, which he helped make into what is arguably the Global Village's most formidable and influential financial institution. Business Week correspondent Zweig (Belly-Up, 1985) offers a tellingly detailed account of how the son of a prominent educator made an enduring name for himself as a world-class banker. Following WW II service Wriston (who turned 76 last year) joined New York's First National City (the predecessor of today's Citibank). At the time, American bankers were still a clubby, risk-averse, and parochial lot who set greater store by relationships than results. The strong-willed, entrepreneurial Wriston and like-minded contemporaries soon put paid to the status quo. Among other accomplishments, Wriston played a leading role in the creation of negotiable CDs at a time when high interest rates had curtailed the bank's access to the funds needed for loans; he also oversaw installation of the information-system infrastructure that has turned ATMs and other high-tech wonders into workaday tools of the banking trade. When he took over as CEO in mid-1967, Wriston publicly committed Citibank to achieve annual earnings growth of at least 15%. How he managed to do so in the face of oil shocks, Washington's erratic economic policy, close encounters with Ralph Nader, and other obstacles makes for a fascinating chronicle. If there were as many blunders as triumphs on Wriston's 17-year watch, he left an enduring legacy. Zweig provides no systematic commentary on the consolidation trend that has impelled commercial giants like Chase and Chemical to merge. He also offers more particulars on long-done deals and internal conflicts than most readers might want. These cavils apart, an absorbing and judicious reckoning on an innovative banker who viewed the world as his capitalistic institution's oyster.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 960pp
Publisher: Crown