Citigroup's CEO Gets a 14,900,000 Percent Raise

Vikram Pandit
Vikram Pandit

By Stephen Gandel, senior editor, Fortune

Vikram Pandit is officially no longer Citi's $1 man. Whether he should be a $15 million one is the question.

Yesterday, the bank disclosed that it paid its CEO nearly $14.9 million in cash and options in 2011. That was up from a dollar the year before. Back in 2009, Pandit said he would take a salary of $1 until Citigroup (C) returned to profitability. In fact, Pandit stuck with the meager check longer than he had to. Citi made money in 2010. So you can't really fault the guy for taking more this year.

Vikram Pandit
Vikram Pandit

And Citigroup did have a pretty good 2011. It earned $11 billion, up 4% from the year before. Still, the bank has a lot to fix. And 2011 was a year in which Citigroup agreed to billions of dollars in fines to settle claims that it broke numerous rules in its mortgage operations, including an untold number of questionable foreclosures, many of which happened on Pandit's watch.

As I have said before, determining what a CEO should make isn't easy. That's how they can get away with such high pay. But Pandit's pay still looks rich. Back in 2006, Citi made $21.5 billion, or nearly double what the company made last year. By that measure, Pandit's pay should be half of the $25 million then-CEO Chuck Prince made in 2006, or $2.5 million less than what he was actually paid. But most studies show that CEOs are paid based on what investors think their company is worth, or market capitalization, not actual earnings. Since the end of 2006, Citigroup's market cap has plunged $180 billion or 64%. By that measure, Pandit should be making roughly $9 million, not $15 million. And all that is based on that fact that the Prince wasn't grossly overpaid, which, given that Citigroup had to be bailed out by the government, he clearly was.

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Even more curious is the 2011 pay hikes for the rest of Citi's executive team. CFO John Gerspach's pay jumped 51% to $7.2 million. John Havens, Citigroup's president, took home nearly $13 million, up 36% from the year before. All told, the pay of Citigroup's top four executives excluding Pandit rose 34% to $43 million. All this comes in a year in which the rest of Wall Street saw their bonuses cut anywhere from 14% to 25% depending on who you believe. And Citigroup's own rank-and-file only saw a 5% jump in their pay.

What's more, Pandit's $1 pay at some level was always an illusion. When Citigroup hired Pandit in 2007 it bought out his hedge fund as well for $800 million. The hedge fund, though, turned out to be nearly worthless, and Citigroup closed it a year later. Nonetheless, Pandit pocketed $165 million on the deal.

Time to bring back the pay czar?

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