Citi Turns 200: Walter Wriston Joins the Team
July 13, 2012 09:00 AM
In celebration of Citigroup's 200th Anniversary, we are sharing stories from our rich history here on this blog. The 17th installation below covers how Walter Wriston helped revitalize the bank's overseas division. Read the 16th installment on how George Moore helped National City Bank plan for additional expansion abroad, here.
Walter Wriston joins the team
A "clearly brilliant" man rises to the top as part of a well-balanced trio, helping lay the foundations for Citi's global presence
Although George Moore was in a hurry to open more foreign branches in the 1950s, he knew he had to revitalize the overseas division first. He quickly brought in Walter Wriston, vice president in charge of the European district, as his deputy. The son of the president of Brown University, Wriston was among the American soldiers who liberated the Philippines at the end of World War II and had come into banking after a brief stint at the State Department. When Moore first found Wriston toiling away in the comptroller's department, he found him to be a "clearly brilliant man" destined for things greater than counting assets in branches. When Moore assumed the presidency of the bank in 1959, Wriston succeeded him as head of the overseas division.
When Moore was crowned chairman eight years later, Wriston duly became president. And when Moore retired in 1970, he passed the baton to Wriston, who would hold the post of chairman for another 14 years. The contributions of Moore and Wriston were complementary. As Moore wrote after his retirement, "Whereas in 1956 no one wanted to go to the Overseas Division ... by the early 1960s the institution began to realize that it offered as good a road as any to the top of the bank." Together, Moore and Wriston laid the foundations for the global presence of Citibank today.
While Moore and Wriston both drove overseas expansion in their different ways, the man who oversaw the bank as chairman between 1959 and 1967 was James Stillman Rockefeller. Stillman Rockefeller was the grandson of William Rockefeller, who co-founded Standard Oil with his brother in 1870. His mother was the daughter of James Stillman, the National City Bank president and chairman in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As Fortune noted half a century later, James Stillman was "one of the few acknowledged geniuses" in America's banking history. "He was a cold, chilling and completely dedicated man with no capacity for small talk." His grandson inherited what Fortune described as an "icy reserve" with an "aloof and elusive personality" - in contrast to Moore, who had provided the bank with "bounce and zip" over the previous 10 years. Frederic Donner, the chairman of General Motors Corp., reportedly once said that, in choosing Stillman Rockefeller and Moore for the top two jobs in 1959, the bank ended up with "a chairman who didn't talk and a president who didn't listen."