By Andrew Saunders Wednesday, 02 January 2013

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Can new Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins save the bank's reputation?

Having taken over from Bob Diamond in the midst of last year's Libor crisis, the new CEO of Barclays says he wants to put the ethics back into British banking. But can he take staff, shareholders and the public with him?

Judging by the unholy contrast between its last leader and the latest one, troubled banking giant Barclays is in for the mother and father of all culture shocks. Bob Diamond (for whom last spring's Libor-rigging revelations proved to be just one scandal too many) was the swashbuckling American-born progenitor of BarCap, a larger-than-life character who put Barclays on the investment banking map, trousered that infamous £20m salary and was pilloried for presiding over a devil-take-the-hindmost approach to income generation.

By comparison, 51-year-old Antony Jenkins, the man who unexpectedly found himself CEO in August, is mild, almost reticent. Lean and wiry, he's a whippet to Diamond's beefy American mastiff. He grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, joining Barclays in 1982 straight after university, and was running Barclays' large but unglamorous retail bank division when the call came to take over the top spot. Was it a surprise? 'I don't really have time to be surprised, but I do occasionally find it strange when someone introduces me as the CEO of Barclays,' he admits.

Controversially for the head of an organisation where around half its £32.3bn annual revenue comes from the investment bank (the old BarCap moniker has been quietly dropped), he has relatively little experience of that side of the operation, although Barclays' septuagenarian new chairman, Sir David Walker, probably has enough for both of them. But Jenkins is a hawk-eyed master of operational efficiency, as his time in charge of Barclaycard demonstrated. A safe pair of hands, then, for a business that is sorely in need of them.

Married to his student sweetheart, Amanda, with two grown-up children who went to non-Oxbridge universities, he is to be paid a 'mere' £1.1m (plus bonus) a year. His total package could add up to about £8.6m pa. In the looking-glass world of global banking, he's about as grounded as they come.

So Master of the Universe he may not be, but of course that's entirely the point. His accession to the throne is a deliberate attempt to penetrate the quicksand Barclays finds itself mired in and hit the reputational bedrock on which it can regroup and begin the long hard journey back to commercial success and social acceptability. 'The truth is you can do 99 things well and only one thing badly, and everyone will focus on the one bad thing,' he says. 'The deceptively simple answer is to do all 100 things well, but I am not naive about how long that will take.'

So far he is making a virtue out of the gulf between the old leader's style and the new. He is currently in decidedly non-Bob sackcloth and ashes mode, never missing an opportunity to state publicly that he knows they got it wrong and that things can't go on as they were. Albeit in his trademark undemonstrative style - anyone hoping for histrionics and chest-beating is in for a disappointment. 'I believe that Barclays has many people who are highly ethical and who behave with integrity,' he says. 'But I also think that for the past few years we have not operated at the standard I would expect for the organisation and we have to change that.'

Given the drama of the events he is alluding to - even by the standards of a scandal-torn sector, the story of the fall of the house of Diamond and his own sudden rise to power is a doozy - he manages to make it all sound like a storm in a teacup. It isn't: Barclays' share price has fallen by 58% in the past five years, it made a £47m Q3 loss, it has been fined a total of £290m over Libor and has had to put aside £2bn for the mis-selling of PPI. It makes a paltry 8.8% return on equity, and it has recently parted company with not only its chief executive but also former chairman Marcus Agius and chief operating officer Jerry del Missier.

But if the 320-year-old bank's reputation is at an all-time low, Jenkins at least possesses a keen awareness of the importance of public opinion and of rebuilding trust in Barclays and the industry as a whole.

'You can't argue with the fact that a lot of things have gone wrong in the financial services industry over the past 20 years,' he says. 'The financial crisis showed them up. Organisational performance is a product of leadership, and leadership got some things badly wrong. We need sustainability with a small "s", shareholder value is not about short-term profitability, it's about delivering for shareholders in a way you can sustain for five or 10 years.'

Don't expect any histrionics and chest-beating from new Barclays CEO Antony JenkinsSince he took over the helm, Jenkins has been trying to establish exactly what it is that Barclays got wrong, where, and (the horror!) whether there might be any more of it to come. The Libor scandal will rumble on for years and will retain its power to damage reputations still further. And don't forget the FSA and SFO investigations into Barclays, relating to fees paid to sovereign wealth fund Qatari Holdings during 2008's emergency rights issues. One of Jenkins's worst nightmares must be that ordure of this kind continues to flow and contaminates his hygienic new leadership term with the taint of the old.

Meanwhile, he has conducted a root-and-branch review of all the bank's operations, doing what he does best - rolling up his sleeves and getting down to work, oiling the wheels with lashings of his finest management-ese. 'I am requiring people to examine the consequences of their decisioning through the lens of the impact of those decisions on society. The reputation test is now the first filter we apply, and it's code for "Is this the right thing to do?". We have to be comfortable with it.'

Nor is this talk simply for public consumption. He has even taken 125 of his most senior execs - including Bob Diamond's former underling Rich Ricci, who now runs the investment bank - off for a two-day stint of re-education, examining companies and organisations facing reputational damage and the challenges of change. The contents of which were revealed by Ricci at a session of the parliamentary commission on banking standards in December. 'We looked at zoos and how they've been able to change by looking at ecosystems rather than just the zoology. We did a lot of considering,' said Ricci.

Another important clue to the Jenkins regime change cropped up a few days later with the news that he has signed up former FSA boss Hector Sants as head of a new, more muscular Barclays' compliance department.

As with Jenkins himself, that is a move that might play better outside the bank that inside it. Jenkins is not clubbable, doesn't like football (although that will endear him to some) and his preferred pastime is the solitary business of marathon running. But there is no denying that he is refreshingly open to public debate on questions that others in his position choose to avoid - such as ethics, social utility and how to make sure that the Jenkins-era Barclays tries to do the right thing.

Hence his participation in the One Young World Summit in Pittsburgh in October, an annual event that unites 1,300 youngsters from 200 countries to talk about topics as diverse as race and sex discrimination, nutrition and sustainability. Speakers ranged from Kofi Annan and Bill Clinton to Jamie Oliver.

It might seem an odd priority for someone with the FTSE 100's most intimidating in-tray, but Jenkins, who led a session on ethical business, is a big fan. 'It's incredibly impressive, a great way for people like me to connect with this generation and find out what they think about business.'

There's a lot of slightly evangelical whooping and hollering from the audience, but it's an energetic and upbeat affair. Not every big bank boss would sign up to two days of being interrogated by a crowd of intense twentysomethings. 'In the world I move in it's very easy to end up talking to people who all have roughly the same views that you do. What I love about this generation is that they approach you in a totally unvarnished way and don't hesitate to tell you what's on their mind,' he says.

But the truth is there is no lack of people of all generations who want to do the same. Jenkins is beset on all sides: politicians and the public are hammering on the front door, looking for penance (or blood if they can't get that), while angry shareholders are crowding round the tradesmen's entrance clamouring for a return on their investment. Meanwhile, his besieged troops wait within, anxious to see what their new leader is made of.

They won't have to wait much longer: he is due to go public with his proposals next month. Rumours of 2,000 or so job losses are already circulating. The fundamental problem is that he has to tell a significantly different story to each of his three key groups of 'stakeholders' and hope that they all hear only what they are supposed to hear, without any cross-contamination.

First and foremost come the shareholders. Fed up after years of paltry returns, they want to know what's going to happen to the structure of the bank; which bits are going to be lopped off and which bits beefed up. Will Barclays do a UBS and effectively dump its investment banking operations in favour of safe, lower-margin alternatives?

Probably not, given the revenue they generate, but investment banks face new rules on all sides - from the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act in the US aimed at Wall Street, to the 2011 report by Sir John Vickers into reforms to UK banks and last autumn's pan- European Liikanen report. And there's that record $1.9bn money-laundering fine for HSBC. Is protectionism rearing its ugly head again in America?

'Some things will not make sense any more - very long-dated, highly structured derivatives products, for example,' warns Jenkins. 'But lots of what goes on inside investment banks is of great social utility - businesses need to raise debt and equity and hedge against currency and interest rate exposure, institutions need to manage long-tail insurance risk, pensions risk and so on. These are valuable services and we need them for economies around the world to be able to grow.' So perhaps he is preparing to forgo some earnings in order to secure a higher quality rating on what the firm keeps doing, in the hope that net:net Barclays will come out ahead.

Second is the great British public, for whom banker bashing and moaning about the bonus culture have become a national sport. They may not have anything to do with actually running the show but they can make life pretty hot for those who do. Jenkins has already called time on the policy of giving branch counter staff sales targets, replacing them with customer service score targets. His i-banker's cherished bonuses may be next for reassessment. 'You might be a fantastic generator of revenue, but if you do it in a way that is inconsistent with our values, that's going to affect your compensation.'

Lastly, and perhaps trickiest of all, are Barclays' 140,000 employees. Punch-drunk after months of scandal, these are the people whom Jenkins has to motivate and encourage, at the same time as telling them that they have to mend their ways, or else. Leaders need followers, but are the teams who followed the charismatic Diamond (a villain outside the company but a hero to many within it) ready to switch allegiance to the dedicated but rather distant Jenkins?

'My belief is that there are more similarities than differences across the group. People in general want to work for an ethical organisation and to be a part of something that's bigger than themselves,' he says, adding: 'I am also sure that there are people in Barclays who won't want to work in the new way. That's fine, but those people really have to go and work somewhere else.'

It's an uncompromising message delivered with a steely eye and a firmly set jaw, but it might be exactly what Barclays needs to get it back on its feet. Cometh the hour, cometh the man ...


JENKINS IN A MINUTE

1962:  Born 11 July, Manchester. Grows up in Stoke-on-Trent. Degree in PPE from Oxford University, MBA from Cranfield School of Management
1982: Joins Barclays as a graduate recruit at the South Kensington branch
1989: Moves to Citigroup, becomes head of branded credit card division
2006: Returns to Barclays to run Barclaycard
2008: Head of global retail banking and member of Barclays' executive committee
2012: 30 August, group chief executive, Barclays

 


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