Facing a challenge


POSTED: Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Richard Parsons, the newly appointed chairman of Citigroup Inc. in New York, majored in history at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the late 1960s, and says time spent there emboldened him to tackle life's major challenges.




University of Hawaii lecture

        » Speaker: Richard Parsons, chairman, Citigroup Inc.

        » Keynote address: ”;The Global Financial Crisis: Origins and Solutions”;

        » Time: Today, 7 p.m.

        » Location: Kennedy Theatre, UH Manoa

        » Price: Free

        » Seating: Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis. For disability access, call 956-0391.

Parsons, 61, is in Honolulu this week as the Dan and Maggie Inouye Distinguished Chair in Democratic Ideals for a week of lectures and seminars on campus.

He will be delivering a keynote address titled “;The Global Financial Crisis: Origins and Solutions”; at 7 tonight at the university's Kennedy Theatre.

As chairman of Citigroup, Parsons faces several considerable hurdles, including the responsibility of pulling the bank out of several consecutive quarterly losses, including a net loss of $8.29 billion in the fourth quarter.

Citigroup reduced its work force by about 52,000 last year, sold its German retail bank operation, and separated the company into Citicorp and Citi Holdings.

At the same time, Citibank has undergone scrutiny for choosing to offer bonuses to its executives and considering the purchase of a corporate jet while receiving $45 billion in federal bailout money.

Parsons, who also served on President Barack Obama's transition team, was appointed chairman of Citigroup in January, but says he's served on its board of directors since the late 1990s.

“;I've been there awhile, and I have a great affection for the people that make up the company,”; he said, calling Citibank one of the most international of all U.S. banks.

He said his objective now is to make sure the bank management and the federal regulatory administration are sharing the same vision and goals, and that they communicate with one another.

As for the bonuses, Parsons said while he understood where the outrage and anguish was coming from on the part of ordinary citizens, it also would be short-sighted to demonize bankers.

“;The reality is that it's more complicated than that,”; he said. “;There's no doubt that the compensation structure Wall Street has used in the last 15 years needs to, and will, undergo some serious change.”;

There needs to be more regulatory oversight, he said, but it's important to remember that banks are still necessary to reignite the economy.

Parson said his sense is that Hawaii's banks are in better shape than on the mainland because they had more of a locally based portfolio and didn't get caught up in the “;toxic assets.”; Former Bank of Hawaii Corp. CEO Mike O'Neill was recently nominated to Citi's board, he said.

While Parsons and Obama share a Hawaii connection — he lived a block from Punahou —- they were not here at the same time. Obama is about 15 years younger than Parsons.

He called Obama very confident with a sort of easy manner about him, and an ability to reach out to others for their expertise and ideas on how to tackle a problem.


Richard Parson's biography

» Title: Chairman, Citigroup Inc.

» Age: 61

» Former positions: Chairman, Time Warner Inc., 2003-2008; CEO, Time Warner, 2002-2007; president, Time Warner, 1995-2001; chairman and CEO, Dime Savings Bank of New York, 1990-1995.

» Attended University of Hawaii: 1964 to 1968, played basketball.

» Honors: 2009 Dan and Maggie Inouye Distinguished Chair in Democratic Ideals, UH Distinguished Alumni Award (1997), UH Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (2003).

Source: Forbes.com, University of Hawaii at Manoa