01 May 2019

A Mind That Is Still

"Few things are brought to a successful issue by impetuous desire, but most by calm and prudent forethought."


It was announced recently that James A. Forese, current president of Citigroup, will retire. After 34 years at Citigroup, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Forese, age 56, and head of the bank's Institutional Client Group, was leaving after spending nearly a decade helping clean up from the spending crisis that contributed to the Great Recession.

(C) Inc.
Tributes to the man

What caught our attention is how some of Mr. Forese's colleagues described the man who had risen to the No. 2 position at the 3rd largest bank in the U.S.  

Keep in mind the context of the mid-2000s--it felt as though the business world, as we knew it, was coming to an end. The housing bubble burst. Credit markets froze. Big companies like General Motors, Lehman Brothers, and Washington Mutual went bankrupt. Nearly 700 hundred thousand people a month were losing their jobs.  

So how did Mr. Forese perform in a time of extreme duress?

"We would not be the company we are without his stewardship," Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat said in a company-wide memo.

Another person added, "He (Jamie Forese) is known for being even-keeled and willing to speak his mind."  

One former Citigroup executive, Tom Obermaier, offered that Jamie Forese was a "voice of calm" during the 2008 financial crisis."When everybody in many respects was in the classic Citi game of pointing fingers, Jamie got everybody in line, calmed everybody down," Mr. Obermaier said.

How executives are described in their departure says much about who they are, not just their accomplishments.    

When your time is up, what will they say about you?

How we think

Mr. Forese's response to such a difficult moment reminds us of the writings of James Allen and the idea that inner thoughts determine outward behaviors. Here is what Allen says:

1. The calmness of the mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. It is the result of long and patient effort in self-control. Its presence indicates ripened experience and a more than ordinary knowledge of laws and operations of thought.

2. A person becomes calm in understanding themselves as a thought-evolving being. Knowledge necessitates the understanding of others. When we see the internal relations of things more clearly, we cease to fuss, fume, worry, grieve, and remain poised, steadfast, and serene.

3. Keep your hand firmly upon the helm of thought. Self-control is strength; Right thought is mastery; Calmness is power. 

Connected with reality

A measure of one's temperament often overlooked in the hiring process contributes significantly to a leader's success. With dissolving behavioral norms and markets upended by technology and demographics, it's essential to have at least one person with a non-anxious presence in the room.

To underscore that point--amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Citigroup seems to have significantly benefited from Jamie Forese's experience and a mind that is still.     

© Bredholt & Co.