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."

--Thucydides 

It was announced recently that James A. Forese, current president of Citigroup, will be retiring.  After 34 years at Citigroup, The Wall Street Journal reported Mr. Forese, age 56, and also 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.

Tributes to the man

What caught our attention is the way in which 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 was quoted as saying.

How executives are described in their departure says a lot about who they are as a person, 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 mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.  It is the result of long and patient effort in self-control.  Its presence is an indication of ripened experience, and of a more than ordinary knowledge of laws and operations of thought.

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

3.  Keep your hand firmly upon the helm of thought.  Self-control is a strength; Right Thought is mastery; Calmness is power.  Source:  As A Man Thinketh, James Allen

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, how important it is to have at least one person in the room with a non-anxious presence.

To underscore that point--in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression Citigroup seems to have benefited greatly from Jamie Forese's experience, and a mind that was still.     



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