Citigroup Chairman Says His Successor May Be CEO Mike Corbat

(Bloomberg) -- Citigroup Inc. may not look far for its next chairman.

Michael O’Neill, the 71-year-old who has led the bank’s board since 2012, said he’s “agnostic” about keeping chairman and chief executive officer as separate roles and directors will consider CEO Mike Corbat to be his successor.

“The process has begun, as you would expect, and I think we’ve got work to do,” O’Neill told investors Tuesday at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Chicago. “It will be a comprehensive process and we will consider all of our options, including having Mike take on both roles.”

Citigroup directors aren’t eligible for re-election after they’ve turned 72, according to the bank’s proxy filing. O’Neill turns 72 in October.

Corbat and Wells Fargo & Co.’s Tim Sloan are the only CEOs at the six largest U.S. banks who don’t have the chairman title. Corporate-governance experts have called for the jobs to be separate to enhance oversight, while bank executives say there are advantages to one person filling both.

A preliminary tally of votes showed Citigroup shareholders approved the company’s slate of directors as well as the firm’s executive-compensation plan for last year. Five shareholder proposals were defeated in the annual vote. A proposal to give investor groups holding at least 15 percent of the stock the right to call special shareholder meetings received 49.8 percent of votes cast.

O’Neill was responding to a question from Wells Fargo analyst Mike Mayo, who said on Bloomberg Television Monday that former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. President Gary Cohn should be Citigroup’s next chairman. At the annual meeting, Mayo said that former Goldman Sachs President Harvey Schwartz and onetime U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis could also be external candidates.

O’Neill became chairman months before Corbat took the helm at Citigroup in October 2012 with the ouster of CEO Vikram Pandit. Corbat and O’Neill helped restructure the lender in the years after the financial crisis, selling more than $800 billion of unwanted subprime assets.

“We have made it work and Mike and I have a good relationship, but I’m a bit agnostic and I’ve seen plenty of companies where the CEO and chairman are the same and they make it work,” O’Neill said. “We’ll consider both. I have no strong preference for either model, although I think what we’ve had has worked well.”

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