Barclays and its new finance director

It’s reported this morning that the new chairman of Barclays is to lunch a clear out of the board in a bid to get some fresh blood and fresh thinking at the top of what has become, perhaps, Britain’s new most notorious bank (the people at RBS must be relieved someone else is taking the flack).
The FT says its possible this round of recruitment could include a replacement for FD Chris Lucas, who has been unwell for a while and is due to retire next year in any case.

But who would want the job? Who would want to take the FD’s chair in what has been a calamitous time.
Timid men and women will steer clear. In fact they’ll run a mile. But for a hardy soul, a dynamic individual with balls and brains, this is a plumb job. And there is a model for this - Bruce Van Saun, the American who took over as the finance chief at RBS once the old guard had been cleared out. I interviewed him for Financial Director and this is the first thing I quoted: “I don’t think I’d be attracted to something that was a maintenance job, where it’s clipping coupons or without a lot of change agenda associated with it.”
Change? That was understating it slightly given the monumental deleveraging that’s been taking place at RBS and the further controversy it encountered (remember the bonuses ferago?).
CEO Stephen Hester apparently told Van Saun that RBS was the biggest turnaround job on the planet. He wasn’t kidding. But Barclays must have saddled itself with one some of the worst self-inflicted reputational damage, ever, after being found out in the Libor scandal. Which makes sorting out it’s mission and business model just as big a piece of work as RBS.

Barclays provides an interesting opportunity. Not just because it’s a big bank so will look good on the CV, or that it’s bound to be well paid (though care needed here that the cheques don’t look gratuitous). No, Barclays provides an interesting source of motivation, something I think I detected in Van Saun. It’s not just about doing your job well, earning the big bucks (he could have earned more elsewhere, I suspect) it’s about doing “good”. You can come at the Barclays role at least partially, if not wholly, spurred on by the belief that you could be part of fixing something in the public interest. Yep, that’s right, the public interest. For us, you, me and the rest of us, who rely upon financial institutions staying in one piece, having robust balance sheets, sensible business models and right-minded ambitions.
I know, I know, it should be about the shareholders, and their value, but I don’t think that’s the place where these large institutions are anymore. Barclays had a cultural issue. An environment in which people lost sight of what was honest and ethical. It’s that which needs rebuilding.
Sad to say it, we need financial institutions like Barclays. A fresh team at the bank could build a new organisation constructed on ethics and working practices that have integrity and a business model that embodies those values. 
If I think anything has changed in the past few years its that the public’s expectations of businesses has transformed. They want systemic stability, they demand integrity and businesses that are honest. Bankers are o loner the master of the universe. They nearly sunk us. A new Barclays FD would carry the burden of helping mend all that. This cries out not just for technical ability. Technicians need not apply. No, this needs that indefinable thing - leadership. Gravitas, authority, guts, strength of character, intelligence, unparalleled communication skills - all those things, plus a little bit more. For the right man or woman it will be a battle, but a glorious one.

To read the Bruce Van Saun interview click here.


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