Citigroup’s ‘Master of the M&A Universe’ Steve Volk to Retire

Citigroup Inc. said Steve Volk, who advised the lender’s last three CEOs and helped the company shed nearly $1 trillion of assets following the financial crisis, will retire from the bank next year.

Volk, who joined Citigroup in 2004 as vice chairman, will retire in February, according to an internal memo signed by Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat and two of his top deputies. Volk is also chairman of the institutional-clients group.

Citigroup’s ‘Master of the M&A Universe’ Steve Volk to Retire

“Steve has helped bring in and maintain some of our most important and durable client relationships,” Corbat, along with President Jane Fraser, who has been named the firm’s next CEO, and Paco Ybarra, head of the institutional-clients group, said in the memo.

Before joining Citigroup in 2004, Volk spent four decades as one of the most prominent merger-and-acquisition lawyers at the law firm Shearman & Sterling, earning him the nickname “master of the M&A universe” in a Businessweek profile in 1997.

“If you want to compare the M&A market now to what it was when I started out 60 years ago, it is very different,” Volk, 83, said in an interview. “Despite Covid, major transactions are getting done remotely without face-to-face contact between the principals, with diligence being done by drones, by Zoom, by every other way.”

In his time as an M&A lawyer, Volk worked on deals including Du Pont Co.’s $7.6 billion purchase of a controlling stake in Conoco in 1981, the largest ever acquisition at the time. More than a decade later, he helped craft the $8.3 billion merger between Paramount Communications Inc. and Viacom Inc.

During his early days with Citigroup, Volk often helped the bank win deals that allowed it to gain minority ownership of entities in new markets. In one case, Citigroup was seeking to acquire a $3.1 billion stake in Akbank. He was driving with his family when he got a call from an adviser to the Turkish lender.

“He said you have to stop the car right away,” Volk said. “And I stopped the car on the side of the road, left my grumpy family in the car and the two of us basically did the deal while my family was waiting on the side of the road.”

Navigating Crisis

More recently, Volk helped shepherd Citigroup through the financial crisis, when it drew a bigger bailout than any other U.S. bank before it ultimately sold $800 billion of subprime assets and exited more than 20 businesses.

For Volk, one of the more memorable transactions came when he helped sell Japanese brokerage Nikko Cordial shortly after the bank bought it. The unit ultimately fetched $5.5 billion.

“He has attracted and executed some of our most significant banking transactions,” Corbat, Fraser and Ybarra said in the memo.

Volk said he plans to continue working with the agricultural company Continental Grain, where he’s a board member. And he hopes to travel more with his wife when the pandemic eases.

“The M&A business, whether you’re a lawyer or a banker, you very much learn by doing and you very much learn by being mentored and by watching others do,” he said. “With that comes enormous long hours, enormous stress and everything else. But there’s still a lot of satisfaction in doing M&A and doing it well. It’s still the game with by far the biggest chips.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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