Walter B. Wriston: A Remembrance
rah at shipwright.com
Sat Jan 22 15:01:13 PST 2005
Wriston was in cryptography in WWII, and was also on of the Neal
Stephenson's "informants" on finance when he was researching Cryptonomicon.
If you ever read his stuff during the dot-com years, he sounded pure
Walter B. Wriston: A Remembrance
Steve Forbes, 01.21.05, 6:59 PM ET
Walter Wriston Add To Tracker
Walt Wriston, former Chairman and CEO of Citicorp/Citibank, was also a
founding director of Forbes.com and served until last year. Our revenues
would never have equaled what Citicorp took in every few minutes, but to
Walt, that did not matter at all.
He was, at heart, an innovator, an entrepreneur, an original thinker and a
man who delighted in getting things done. He quickly grasped the promise of
the Internet and never lost faith in its possibilities in the aftermath of
the high-tech bubble. The fact that there would be setbacks and excesses in
the field were to him part of the normal course of events in a free market.
They never made him lose sight of how powerful an instrument the Internet
is. He understood, as few others did, how fundamentally vital is the spread
The willingness to pioneer by pursuing and investing in new technologies
and going into areas where others wouldn't tread -- or had tread and
faltered -- was how this man truly revolutionized American and global
banking. The word "revolution" has been grossly over-used, but what Wriston
did for finance was just that -- a revolution.
Until the 1960s, banking was a backwater. A handful of hours each day was
more than sufficient to handle one's responsibilities. Commercial bankers
were risk-averse. They were stodgy. They didn't want to be bothered with
consumers -- that was for savings banks, not commercial banks. The
government told banks what interest rates they were allowed to pay on
Before Walt was through, he almost single-handedly turned banking from the
equivalent of a small, sleepy town into a hyper-energetic, New York-like
Under his leadership, Citibank pioneered automatic-teller machines. It
pursued the credit card business in a way that no other bank was doing at
the time. He constantly battered government regulations. He expanded
internationally at a dizzying pace. Old constraints on banks were consigned
to the dustbin of history. Walt made what is now called Citigroup the
world's leading financial institution. Because he was not risk-averse, he
made his share of mistakes. But these were minute compared to his
Walt was a delight to be around. He believed passionately in free markets.
His insights were almost always original and profound. Our board meetings
were always productive and stimulating. Walt was both an intellectual and a
My only regret is that he was never given the reins to run our Treasury
Department or the Federal Reserve. Now that would have been a sight to
In the end, however, Walt Wriston achieved far, far more than have those
who have held these kinds of public sector posts.
We have lost a truly remarkable man.
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
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