Mark Mason, who was recently named to Forbes CEO Next list of leaders likely to lead some of America’s largest companies, talks about his career, the industry and why he lies on the floor.
As a kid growing up in Queens, Mark Mason used to carry a Samsonite briefcase to school, stuffed with bubblegum and baseball cards that he would sell to other students at lunch. While his grandmother wanted him to become a doctor to cure her arthritis, Mason says he knew early on that he “had a knack for business.”
A major pivot point was his decision to attend Howard University, where he earned a degree in finance. “It was an opportunity to learn with and from Black people from all over the world,” says Mason of the 156-year-old private, historically Black university. Moreover, Howard’s case study method prepared him well when he went to pursue a Harvard MBA.
Mason went on to play key strategy roles at Marakon Associates and Lucent, before moving to Citi in 2001. His best leadership training, he says, came from some of his toughest tasks — from the joint venture between Smith Barney and Morgan Stanley where he essentially managed himself out of a job to running Citi Holdings, the unit formed after the financial crisis to house risky assets. Mason’s initial reaction: “You want me to run the bad bank?” It turned out to be one of his best career moves.
Mason has also learned some painful lessons. He went to Lucent to learn about technology and also discovered that “you can’t align yourself with one person. When that person got let go, I got let go, too.”
With Mason’s track record at Citi, the bigger concern these days is how to keep him. Mason talks about his pivotal moves, why he lays on the floor and the strategic way he deploys a plaque on this desk that says: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”