“Time said, noting that Citigroup itself required multiple government rescues costing $45 billion. In 2010 testimony before a congressional panel investigating the meltdown, Mr. Weill minimized the role of Glass-Steagall’s repeal, saying it “had nothing to do with the financial crisis.”…
…When he retired as Citigroup chairman in 2006, Mr. Weill held 16.6 million Citigroup shares, then worth $768 million. At his peak in 2007, Forbes listed his net worth at $1.8 billion. But the stock lost more than 90 percent of its value after his handpicked successor allowed Citigroup to build up a huge exposure to toxic subprime assets.”, Randall Smith, “Sandy Weill’s Wine Country Retirement, With Notes of Rue and Chagrin”, The New York Times, May 19, 2016
Sandy Weill’s Wine Country Retirement, With Notes of Rue and Chagrin
By RANDALL SMITH
Sandy Weill and his wife, Joan, at the University of California, San Francisco, where they have pledged $185 million for a new neurosciences center. Credit Andrew Burton for The New York Times
SONOMA, Calif. — Sanford I. Weill, who built Citigroup into a too-big-to-fail colossus and dominated the New York charity and social circuit more than a decade ago, lately can be found relaxed in jeans attending local wine country social events or riding his John Deere farm utility vehicle across his property to visit the neighbors.
Mr. Weill, a quintessential Brooklyn native, and his wife, Joan, have decamped for Sonoma, where the rolling sun-dappled hills are often compared to Italy’s Tuscany region. The Weills spend more than half of their time here now, far from Wall Street’s high-octane environment — and its critical onlookers.
Of course, parts of Mr. Weill’s new life still look similar to his old one back East.
On the lawn of his 360-acre hilltop estate, named Casa Rosa, sit two stainless steel sculptures of roses, each more than 20 feet tall, by the New York artist Will Ryman. Mr. Weill bought them after noticing them in 2011, when they were part of a public art installation adorning Park Avenue.
The couple’s Manhattan-based interior designer, Mica Ertegun, updated the Sonoma estate’s 11,600-square-foot mansion, which they bought in 2010 for $30 million. The property includes a vineyard that produces syrah under the “Weill a Way” label. And Mr. Weill arranged for Breguet, whose $23,600 wristwatches he wears, to become the official timepiece of a concert hall named after the Weills at nearby Sonoma State University, a project he helped finish with a $12 million donation in 2011.
“I think he kind of enjoys it out here. Probably he finds it a bit more of a quieter lifestyle than the hustle and bustle of the city,” said Leslie Vadasz, a retired Intel executive whose 200-acre estate is next door to Casa Rosa. The two have become friendly, but there are some topics that are still off limits, it seems.
“In a way, he was quite a pioneer on Wall Street,” Mr. Vadasz said in a recent interview, seated in the spacious living room of his own hillside mansion. “But when I mentioned it, either Sandy or Joan said, ‘Look what happened.’ He was not particularly happy about it.” Mr. Weill does not appear to enjoy discussing the topic, Mr. Vadasz added. “There are subjects that I don’t poke at and he doesn’t volunteer.”
In an interview in an office he keeps in New York, where he still spends a quarter of his time, Mr. Weill acknowledged that the fate of Citigroup, and the role of giant banks in the financial crisis of 2008, do not get discussed much out West.
Explaining the couple’s move, Mr. Weill said, “The two most interesting places in the U.S. are New York City and the Bay Area, and we spent more than 50 years of our married life in New York.” He added that the draws to the San Francisco Bay Area are the exciting innovation and entrepreneurship there, as well as the weather, the food and wine, and the lack of concrete.
The Weills signaled their westward shift on April 26 by announcing a $185 million gift to the University of California, San Francisco, to finance a new Weill Institute for Neurosciences.
In recent years, the couple has retired from board leadership roles at three New York institutions they continue to back: Weill Cornell medical school, Carnegie Hall and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. But until the latest gift was announced, few New Yorkers familiar with Mr. Weill’s storied Wall Street history knew that they had moved.
In his heyday in the 1990s, Mr. Weill was “a Sun King — one of the most powerful and successful financial individuals in New York,” said Roy Smith, a finance professor at New York University business school. Mr. Weill gained that status as a deal maker, with a series of ever-larger mergers culminating with Citicorp and the Travelers Group forming the behemoth Citigroup in 1998. The last deal helped knock down the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated banking from the riskier securities business.
But then he and Citigroup suffered a series of setbacks. He stepped down as Citigroup’s chief executive in 2003, a few months after a bruising regulatory probe of biased Wall Street research uncovered his personal efforts to get the star telecommunications analyst Jack Grubman to reconsider a tepid neutral rating on AT&T stock at a time when AT&T’s chief executive was a Citigroup director; though Mr. Weill was not charged, Citigroup paid the largest fine of any Wall Street company.
And he and Citigroup were cited as contributors to the 2008 financial crisis by Time magazine and the Oscar-winning documentary “Inside Job.” Knocking down Glass-Steagall helped spawn “swollen banks” that “are now one of the country’s major economic problems,” Time said, noting that Citigroup itself required multiple government rescues costing $45 billion. In 2010 testimony before a congressional panel investigating the meltdown, Mr. Weill minimized the role of Glass-Steagall’s repeal, saying it “had nothing to do with the financial crisis.”
When he retired as Citigroup chairman in 2006, Mr. Weill held 16.6 million Citigroup shares, then worth $768 million. At his peak in 2007, Forbes listed his net worth at $1.8 billion. But the stock lost more than 90 percent of its value after his handpicked successor allowed Citigroup to build up a huge exposure to toxic subprime assets.
Sensitive to his image, cultivated through business success, philanthropy and a penchant for putting the Weill name on buildings and institutions, Mr. Weill “may feel somewhat diminished,” said Mr. Smith of N.Y.U. But Mr. Weill says New York “continues to be very welcoming to us.” And he disputed suggestions advanced by two friends in interviews that the move west was motivated partly to get away from “all the noise around Citi.”
Mike Conway, Mr. Weill’s chief of staff, said, “The Weills are not running away from anything. They are just trying to expand their horizons.”
Ms. Weill said the couple often enjoyed time they spent on business trips to Carmel, Calif., and once considered buying “a pink house” there but decided it would be “a pain in the neck” to get back and forth while he was still working full time. The idea of the Bay Area came back in mid-2010 during a trip to Napa Valley. She recalls saying, “Gee, it’s really nice here. Maybe we should think about this.”
In 2011, Mr. Weill sold his 10-room apartment at 15 Central Park West for $88 million. In 2012, he sold a 200-foot yacht for about $50 million. He has held on to a 12-room mansion in Greenwich, Conn., plus spreads in the Adirondacks and Bahamas. But nowadays, friends say, when he spends the night in Manhattan, he usually stays at a hotel.
Sonoma, population 11,000 and situated 40 miles north of San Francisco, stands apart from Silicon Valley to the south, which teems with venture capital investors, start-ups and technology juggernauts like Apple and Facebook. The Weill estate is a few miles to the west of town, reachable via roads dotted with rusting pickup trucks, a Jack in the Box fast-food franchise and a furniture consignment store.
Mr. Weill has not lost the thirst for success that helped build Citigroup and its predecessors, with a stock performance that more than doubled the broad market when he was chief executive. His 2012 Weill a Way Exposition 3 Syrah, which retails for about $79, got a 99 score from the wine critic Robert Parker in 2015. Morgan Twain-Peterson, the owner of Bedrock Wine, which produces Weill a Way, said Mr. Weill has suggested increasing margins by raising the price. “He often says, ‘I don’t understand your business model at all.’ He always wants the wine to be priced higher.”
He also keeps up with old friends, including Ajay Banga, a Citigroup protégé who now runs MasterCard, which has pledged $15 million to sponsor concerts and a planned outdoor pavilion near the Weill concert hall at Sonoma State.
Going to California helped Mr. Weill “restart the clock,” said Mr. Banga, who hosted an informal 83rd birthday celebration for Mr. Weill in March at a New York restaurant. “He’s a good guy. He’s gone through a lot, good and bad. I’ve heard him say you have to go through bad experiences to learn how to handle them and come out of them so you can better deal with the good times.”
Michael de la Merced contributed reporting
A version of this article appears in print on May 19, 2016, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Wine Country Retirement With Notes of Rue.