Tearing Down the Walls: How Sandy Weill Fought His Way to the Top of the Financial World. . .and Then Nearly Lost It All
Publish Year note: First published in 2003
The very night that Sanford "Sandy" Weill, the chairman and chief executive officer of Citigroup, was being feted on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as CEO of the Year, the television screens above the floor were flashing danger: A congressional panel was tearing into Jack Grubman, the $20-million-a-year telecommunications analyst who worked for Sandy. Had Grubman and Citigroup favored corporate clients at the expense of average investors? Was Citigroup recommending stocks of troubled companies to get their business? The worst scandal of Sandy Weill's long career was breaking around him.
Here, from its very beginning, is the riveting inside story of how a rough-edged kid from Brooklyn overcame incredible odds and deep-seated prejudice to put together Citigroup, the world's largest financial empire, and to transform financial services in America — for better or worse.
Tearing Down the Walls provides an unprecedented look at how business and finance are conducted at the highest levels, with extraordinary insight into the character and motivations of powerful men and women. And it's the enthralling account of the interplay between power and personality. Sandy Weill, the son of an immigrant dressmaker, is a larger-than-life character, a legendary Wall Street CEO whose innovativeness, opportunism, and even fear drove him from the lowliest job on Wall Street to its most commanding heights. Over a span of five decades he has tangled with — and usually bested — some of the most prominent and powerful titans of finance, including the elitist financier John Loeb, the mutual-fund gunslinger and conglomerateur Gerald Tsai, the patrician American Express chairman Jim Robinson, and the cerebral banking visionary John Reed. A consummate deal maker, Sandy Weill amassed and then lost an astounding assemblage of securities firms, only to plunge ahead to rebuild his empire and ultimately create the modern American financial-services supermarket. At the center of Citigroup's recent crises, he's the mogul many are waiting to see topple, while many more are trying to figure out how he succeeded.
Using nearly five hundred firsthand interviews with key players in his life and career — including Weill himself — The Wall Street Journal's Monica Langley brilliantly chronicles not only his public persona, but his hidden side: blunt and often crude, yet unpretentious and sometimes disarmingly charming. Tearing Down the Walls reveals Weill's tyrannical rages as well as his tearful regrets, the crass stinginess and the unprecedented generosity, the fierce sense of loyalty and the ruthless elimination of potential rivals — even those he loves. Langley illuminates a climb to the top filled with class conflict — Jew against WASP, immigrant against Mayflower descendant, entrepreneur against establishment — and explores the volatile personality that inspires slavish devotion or utter disdain. By highlighting in new and startling detail one man's life in a narrative as richly textured and compelling as a novel, Tearing Down the Walls provides the historical context of the dramatic changes not only in business but also in American society in the last half century. Compulsively readable, it is also essential for understanding the forces that are reshaping the American financial system today.
Enterprises would be more descriptive. With Wall Street’s other corporations now run by a bunch of anonymous suits…Sandy Weill’s portly profile has loomed up as the investment world’s most prominent empire builder.” The Wall Street Journal’s report elevated Sandy’s status as well—calling him a “Wall Street legend” and his firm “Wall Street’s New Goliath.” An ecstatic Sandy beamed throughout the day. He talked up the deal with stock analysts that morning and went to lunch with Joan. That
the nation’s top issuer of credit cards, had purchased AT&T’s Universal Card portfolio for $3.5 billion in cash earlier in 1998. Just as the Citibank branches operated in independent territories, Citicorp’s pervasive credit-card business comprised twenty-four different systems. With the addition of the AT&T card portfolio, Citicorp’s card business was far and away the largest, 50 percent larger than its closest rival, MBNA. As Willumstad reviewed the new portfolio, he realized that no one at
A senior management meeting was set for the next week, August 15, 1983, to evaluate the IDS purchase. But the meeting would be more than just a consideration of a deal. It would be a vote of confidence in Sandy Weill as well. As the acquisition’s proponent, Sandy made the presentation to the executives seated around the long mahogany table. For the first time in his life, he actually put on a slide show in the American Express tradition. Sheinberg, who had known Sandy for nearly two decades,
Never again, he vowed to himself. The big question everyone wanted to know: What will you do now? Conceding that he had no specific plans, his answer was true to himself: “Maybe I’ll build another company. Whatever I do next, I will want to be the top person. I just want to run my own show again.” 4 Exile on Park Avenue The morning of June 26, 1985, Sandy Weill awakened to face his choices. He could be a CEO in exile, shamed by his defeat at American Express and reluctant to reenter the
group’s first night out, after the dishes were cleared. “What’s on everybody’s mind? How are you feeling about things?” He brought out his trademark cigar and ordered a bottle of his favorite after-dinner drink, Calvados, an apple brandy, for the table. Cradling a snifter in his hand to warm the expensive brandy, Sandy encouraged his cronies to join him in lighting up and drinking. “What’s on your mind?” he asked, calling on Lipp to begin the discussion. Nervous that Sandy might still be