Like most Wall Streeters, Michael Corbat — the 52 year-old Connecticut native tapped on Tuesday to assume the reins of the troubled mega bank Citigroup — has an Ivy League pedigree and a background steeped in trading, corporate and investment banking.
Yet the former Harvard University football player lacks the name recognition possessed by most of the finance industry's other reigning titans.
Before the abrupt resignation of Citigroup chief Vikram Pandit, few people outside of Wall Street had heard the name Corbat, who currently serves as the head of Citi's Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) operation. (Read more: Pandit's Sudden Exit: What Really Happened at Citi ?)
Indeed, Corbat is something of an enigma to analysts and Citigroup watchers — all of whom scrambled in the wake of the executive shuffle to make sense of why Pandit left so suddenly. Corbat's colleagues and acquaintances offered little detail to reporters about his personality or work habits. (Read More: Corbat's Memo to Citigroup Employees )
"This is kind of a quick move but on the other hand, Corbat is the right guy to fill the spot, " said Jeffery Harte, a principal at Sandler O'Neill. Harte was one of the few commentators able to offer insights into Corbat's personal style.
"He's got personal skills...charisma and communication skills, " Harte said. "It was one of the things Vikram lacked, in getting the message out to both clients and investors. I mean, that's one of [Corbat's] strong suits."
Yet Pandit's sudden departure thrusts Corbat into the spotlight, barely a year after Citigroup exited the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program following three years on the government dole. He takes the helm just as Citi is steering itself back to normalcy following the 2008 financial crisis, which nearly toppled the global financial Goliath.
In a statement, Citi's chairman Michael O'Neill praised Corbat as having "demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities… [and] brings deep and varied operating experience across a broad spectrum of the financial services industry."
Corbet has been with the bank since 1983, when he graduated from Harvard with an economics degree and joined the fixed income sales department of Salomon Brothers — the investment bank bought by Travelers Group in 1998, which eventually merged with Citigroup later that same year.
Robert Wolf, the former UBS CEO, described Corbat to the New York Times as a man "who knows clients and products well." Wolf told the Times that the two men became acquainted during their college years, when Wolf also played football at the University of Pennsylvania.
Prior to taking the helm of Citi's EMEA operations, Corbat ran Citi Holdings, the bank's portfolio of non-core businesses and assets. During his tenure, he spearheaded Citi's efforts to shed more than 40 businesses, including its stake in Primerica, and aggressively cut more than $500 billion in assets from the bank's bloated balance sheet.
Before that, Corbat ran Citi's global emerging markets unit, where he oversaw emerging market fixed income sales and trading.
An unnamed former colleague compared Corbat to Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, saying that the banking executive was a "very bland and typical American midwest type, " according to the Financial Times.
Although the source said Corbat was "not the most inspiring leader and certainly not the visionary type", he complemented the executive's intellect and managerial skills.
The bespectacled Corbat also took over Citi's global wealth management unit after Sallie Krawcheck — one of Wall Street's highest-ranking and most prominent female executives — vacated the position.
Having run both the bank's corporate and commercial banking operations, Corbat was once involved with managing the fallout of Orange County, California's bankruptcy. He also dabbled in the wave of sovereign debt restructurings that swept Latin America.
Some observers speculated that Corbat's experience in commercial banking — a departure from Pandit's background in risk management — could presage a shift back to Citi's old roots before it took on the mantle of financial supermarket. Investors cheered the move, bidding Citi's stock up more than a percent in afternoon New York trading.
While at Harvard, Corbat was an all-Ivy offensive guardsman on the Crimson's football team. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of EMI, The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Foundation and BritishAmerican Business.