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Thursday, 24 September 2009

Brown stood up on a blind date

You may never have heard of Bill Rhodes, but for many years he has been on the board of Citibank/corp/group. He joined Citibank in the 1950's, a preppy's preppy straight from Brown University and at a time when US international banking mostly meant moving cash and handling the payroll for US multinationals and the odd bit of private banking for Latin American generals, Rhodes was was the man who did most of the glad handing.

After 25 years or so, Rhodes made his way onto the board of Citibank/corp/group, since when he has appeared in every annual report bearing a permutation of the words Senior, Vice, Executive, Director, Chairman and President. Rhodes' role in saving Citi in the Latin American debt crises of 30 years ago seems to have given him a job for life, and he now rejoices under the title of Senior Vice Chairman of Citigroup, whatever that means. How many grades of Vice Chairman or even how many Vice Chairmen does a board need?

In any event it seems that Mr Rhodes doesn't get to do much banking these days because apart from his role at Citi-whatsit, he finds time to be a Director of ConocoPhillips, a Director of the Private Export Funding Corporation, Vice Chairman of the Institute of International Finance, Chairman of the Hong Kong-U.S. Business Council, Vice Chairman of the Board of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a Director of the US-Russia Business Council, and a member of South African President Thabo Mbeki's International Advisory Board andColombian President Uribe's Advisory Board, and a board member of The Africa-America Institute, Foreign Policy Association, and the US-Egypt Presidents' Council. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, The Economic Club of New York, the Hong Kong / U.S. Business Council and a founding member of the U.S. National Advisory Council to the International Management Center in Budapest, Hungary.

Mr Rhodes is also a past Chairman of the U.S. Advisory Committee of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, past Chairman of the U.S. section of the Venezuela-U.S. Business Council, past President of the Venezuela-American Chamber of Commerce and past President of the Bankers Association for Foreign Trade.

But it doesn't stop there, because he is also a Governor and Trustee of The New York and Presbyterian Hospital, a member of the Lincoln Center Consolidated Corporate Fund Leadership Committee and a Vice Chairman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Business Committee and Chairman's Committee, Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of the Northfield Mount Hermon School and a member of the Board of Overseers of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown.

So all in all, we would have to say that despite being well into his 70's Mr Rhodes is still a redoubtable committee member and handshaker even if he doesn't seem to be one of the big swinging dicks in today's markets. So no surprise then that when Gordon Brown, saviour of the world economy, turned up on Wall Street yesterday, it was only Mr Rhodes, not Citi-CEO Vikram Pandit, who put in an appearance.

But then neither did the invited Blankfein, Dimon, Mack nor any other senior American banker. They obviously had better things to do. Like washing their hair. This after all is the man who wants to cap the bonuses of the staff in their London offices, but to tax them at 50% as well, destroying in one fell swoop the primary management tool in investment banking.

One can't help wondering whether they would have been so coy if it had been Brown's counterpart from India, China or even Switzerland.

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