Terri Dial, Hired to Help Citigroup’s Recovery, Dies at 62

Terri Dial
Terri Dial, late senior advisor at Citigroup Inc. Source: Citigroup Inc. via Bloomberg

Terri Dial, whose work on the reshaping of Citigroup Inc. in 2008 culminated a three-decade banking career that made her a much-watched woman in business, has died. She was 62.

She died yesterday in a hospice in Miami, Karen Kaplowitz, a friend and family spokeswoman, said. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.

In 27 years at Wells Fargo & Co., Dial rose from teller to executive vice president and head of the San Francisco-based company’s California banks and business banking. The U.K.’s Lloyds TSB Group Plc hired her in 2005 to run its consumer banking. In 2008, as Vikram Pandit began assembling a new team to lead Citigroup from the ruins of financial crisis, he chose Dial to head its North American consumer banking unit.

Forbes magazine in 2009 included Dial, at No. 73, on its annual list of the 100 most powerful women. On American Banker magazine’s 2009 list of “women to watch,” she was No. 10.

“Terri was kind of a bigger-than-life figure in banking circles,” said her friend and former colleague, Deborah Doyle McWhinney, chief operating officer of Citigroup’s Global Enterprise Payments division. “Globally she is probably one of the top five women in financial services” in the last 15 to 20 years.

Dial didn’t shy away from being seen as a role model for women aiming for the boardroom.

“Women will work themselves to death in the belief that if they do more and more, that will get them ahead, when it isn’t so,” she told the Wall Street Journal in 2004 for an article on why some women find it a struggle to advance. “They think, ‘If I do the work, my bosses will see it and reward me.’”

First Appointment

Women need to engage in self-promotion, which they are reluctant to do, she said.

“Good girls don’t advertise,” she told the Journal. “We feel dirty promoting ourselves.”

Dial was the first senior appointment by Pandit after he became chief executive officer at New York-based Citigroup in December 2007 and began developing a strategy to reshape management along regional rather than product lines.

In her 21 months as head of consumer banking in North America, and as global head of consumer strategy, Dial worked with Pandit to group the worst-performing consumer units, including the CitiFinancial personal-lending business, in a new division, Citi Holdings, for disposal.

The challenge was formidable: Two months before her March 2008 appointment, Citigroup had reported a $9.8 billion fourth-quarter loss, the biggest in its 196-year history, and the industry was still reeling from the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.

The Plan

Dial began developing a strategy to retool the North American consumer business as a so-called Bank of the Future, offering rejuvenated Internet and mobile-phone portals alongside branches, Bloomberg News reported in September 2009. She hired Michelle Peluso, the then-37-year-old former head of airline-reservation website Travelocity.com, to oversee the planning sessions.

As it turned out, the bank never announced a new consumer strategy. A proposal to shut or sell some of its 1,001 branches in the U.S. and Canada was scrapped.

Citing personal reasons, Dial stepped down in January 2010 and became a senior adviser.

Culture of Success

Dial “put together a management team that was largely new in their jobs, me included, that worked as well together as I’ve seen in a large corporation,” said McWhinney, a former president of Charles Schwab Institutional hired in March 2009 to lead personal wealth management at Citigroup. “We figured things out and supported each other, and that was the culture Terri created.”

Teresa Arlene Dial was born on Oct. 30, 1949, in Miami. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in 1971.

Working as a teller at a Wells Fargo branch in San Francisco’s Mission District, she took on the male-dominated order by successfully challenging the practice of having female staffers clean the kitchen, according to a 1999 Wall Street Journal profile.

She was selected for Wells Fargo’s management-training program, in which she met her husband, Brian Burry.

Role in Merger

As an executive vice president, a title she gained in 1989, she was responsible for loans and banking services to small business across the U.S. She was made a vice chairman in 1996. After helping carry out the 1998 merger of Wells Fargo with Norwest Corp., she retired from the company in 2001 and served on several corporate boards.

“Terri has communicated a vision of the future for our California bank and her other businesses, and motivated her team to embrace and pursue that vision with great success,” Richard Kovacevich, Wells Fargo’s then-CEO said when she left the bank.

In 2005, Eric Daniels, the first American to run London-based Lloyds, hired Dial as group executive director for U.K. consumer banking. In that role, she pushed sales of Scottish Widows insurance and savings products, to capitalize on the retirement needs of older clients, while introducing services such as instant check clearing to win younger customers.

‘Human Cyclone’

British newspapers reported that she had been known as the “human cyclone” among her Wells Fargo colleagues.

“I don’t know where the nickname came from, but it’s not a bad thing,” she told American Banker magazine. “My pace is a little bit more aggressive than probably people have been used to, and I think they just go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right, she’s that human cyclone.’ So it’s actually served me well.”

McWhinney said Dial kept her work in balance with her personal life. Dial’s passion was travel, and the southern region of Africa her favorite vacation destination, she told the San Francisco Business Times in 1996.

“Terri and Brian had the richest and most diverse set of friends,” McWhinney said. “You went to their house and had the best meals with the best wine. Life was just robust and fun and eclectic. It’s a lesson to be learned for all of us.”

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