Departing Freddie Mac ( FRE) CEO David Moffett could be a man in high demand for reeling financial services companies looking to remake their board rooms. The 57-year-old Moffett announced his sudden resignation from Freddie Mac last week after just six months on the job. He indicated that he is looking to return to the financial services sector, according to the company. His last day is today. While the former US Bancorp ( USB) CFO may have relished the opportunity to head a major company for the first time when he took Freddie's reins, his skills are likely better suited elsewhere. There is rising sentiment that battered financial services companies need to overhaul their executive suites and board rooms, who allowed them to foray into risky securities and loans that led to the sector's meltdown. "Moffett will be on everybody's radar screen," says Carter Burgess, a managing director and head of board recruiting practice at RSR Partners in Greenwich, Conn. "He'll either get a job at a less-destroyed financial services company or go back to
being a board member." Others say Moffett may prefer to work at a smaller, less problematic bank. Moffett declined to be interviewed at this time, according to a Freddie Mac spokeswoman. The timing for a move may be opportune, experts including Burgess contend. Banks need to add more directors that have specific financial and commercial banking expertise. " Bank boards are not populated by people who can get their arms around the business," Burgess says.
Troubled U.S. banks like Citigroup ( C) and Bank of America ( BAC) could use some fresh perspective either on their board of directors or within the executive management ranks. In fact, both may be close to doing just that. Reports said Friday that Citi is getting ready to name Moffett's former boss, former US Bancorp CEO Jerry Grundhofer, to its board. The Wall Street Journal reported he, ex- Bank of Hawaii ( BOH) CEO Michael O'Neill and William S. Thompson, former co-chief of bond investment manager Pimco are in Citi's plans to revamp its board. The American Banker's recent annual Banker of the Year reception, Grundhofer said Moffett "is the best CFO in the business, though when he and I were together, he didn't like the mortgage business so much," the paper quoted him as saying. Some observers questioned why Moffett left Freddie Mac so suddenly and whether the firm's losses were to blame. Freddie Mac reported on Wednesday that its loss for the full year of 2008 totaled a whopping $50 billion, or $34.60 a share, and asked for an additional $30.8 billion in funding from the Treasury Department. Freddie Mac on Wednesday appointed John Koskinen to become interim CEO and Robert Glauber as interim non-executive chairman. Both men sit on the company's board of directors. "Being CEO is hard enough, being CEO with the media and government scrutiny probably was not worth it to him," says Rusty O'Kelley, a principal of consulting firm Katzenbach Partners in an email. O'Kelley says both Moffett and Fannie Mae ( FNM) CEO Herb Allison, the former head of TIAA-CREF, are successful financial services executives who thought they could make a difference.
Allison succeeded ousted Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd in September as Moffett took the role of CEO from Richard Syron, after regulators placed both mortgages firm into conservatorship. "Why would anyone want these jobs," O'Kelley says. "These are successful, retired executives. They're not doing it for the money. They're doing it to be helpful for the country, but there comes a point when they say 'This isn't worth it, I want to quit.'" Moffett retired from US Bancorp in February 2007 after serving as CFO for 14 years at the Minneapolis bank and its predecessors. He took a job at private equity behemoth Carlyle Group in the fall of 2007. As part of the Washington, D.C.-based buyout firm's financial institutions group, Moffett advised on investments in banks and insurers. Moffett was also a director at bond insurer MBIA ( MBI), online auction site eBay ( EBAY), media company E.W. Scripps ( SSP) and Building Materials Holding ( BMHC), but stepped down from all but eBay's board after taking Freddie's reins. Moffett must have seen an opportunity when a member of Treasury official called him in mid-August and asked if he wanted to run a major financial services institution that was about to be taken over by regulators, according to the Wall Street Journal. Moffett said at the time that he didn't know that he would be the CEO of Freddie Mac until a day or two before it was taken over in September, according to the Journal. But Moffett became increasingly frustrated with the need to gain approval from regulators on most business decisions and "conflicts between government policy mandates and his efforts to turn around the company," the Journal said.
O'Kelley speculates that in recent weeks Moffett likely realized that Freddie Mac needed a different skill set than his and that he probably did the company a favor when he realized that perhaps being Freddie Mac's CEO was not a right fit for him. "I think that's a fairly selfless thing to do.
If he was ego-driven, he could stay in there and keep the title, but he is not," O'Kelley says. John Jaye, a senior analyst at consulting firm Aite Group, said with the inside view Moffett had of Freddie Mac, he probably now has a better understanding of risk control mechanisms, "especially when it comes to mortgages." That experience will undoubtedly come in useful given today's housing meltdown. In addition, Jaye said any future position Moffett might hold would benefit from ties to the administration he made through Freddie Mac and "getting the pulse of where regulators might be forthcoming." This also is useful experience if Moffett ends up at another financial company, considering the increased regulatory scrutiny at banks and other firms, particularly ones that received funding through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Moffett now has "a great opportunity," O'Kelley says.