Big Chief | As chief operating officer of Citigroup in Germany, Irwin is involved in all aspects of the bank such as investment banking, trading and cash management, but he focuses on strategy, client relations and problem solving at what is now the largest bank in the world. He’s lived in Germany for 36 years.
Let’s Do Lunch | His path toward Germany began in Xavier’s old South Hall in 1965, where he ran into Tom Hailstones, dean of the business school. Irwin was attending law school at the University of Cincinnati—and was miserable. His grades were poor and his future looked hopeless. Hailstones sat down and suggested he switch to Xavier’s M.B.A. program.
Enlightened | “I saw the light and said, ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’ I didn’t know anything about the business world, but I got the best grades I ever got there. If there’s anything I attribute my success to, it’s Tom Hailstones.”
Reporting For Duty | After graduating the second time, Irwin reported for duty with the Army and prepared for deployment to Vietnam. Again, fate intervened. “I was sent to Germany, and I learned later that 50 percent of my training class was killed.”
Adopted Country | Irwin fell in love with Germany. He lived off the base, learned German and reached the rank of captain. When he was discharged two years later, he took a job with Dun & Bradstreet in New York because they promised to send him back to Germany. Three years later he was assigned to London, which led to his promotion to general manager for Germany in 1974.
Climbing Ladders | Irwin joined Citibank AG in 1984, rose to chief operating officer in 2003 and is now responsible for 7,500 employees. But he also rose in the ranks of the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany and sits on numerous advisory boards, including as chairman of the Motorola board and was a member of the NFL Europe board. He still attends every Super Bowl game.
High Brow Service | Irwin joined the American Chamber in 1975 and was elected president in 1991, giving him access to high-placed government officials such as the German chancellor and President Bush. “I’m very involved in German-American politics as the representative of American business in Germany,” he says.
Belly Up | He also loves German food. “In Frankfurt, we have Rippchen mit Kraut (pork ribs with sauerkraut), Handkaese mit Musik (a soft cheese with vinegar-chopped onions), and oder Gruenesosse (a green sauce of seven herbs served with boiled oxen breast and potatoes). But many think that the best food in Germany is Italian cuisine. Those from Cincinnati would feel very much at home here.”