Bank crisis: A helicopter intellect flies off without warning

The City is stunned as Blairite high-flyer suddenly quits Barclays, claiming he cannot get things done
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The Independent Online
IF THERE is one characteristic that appears to define Martin Taylor it is the scope of his intellect. Colleagues joke that he has a brain the size of Jupiter. And his nicknames focus on his boffin-like qualities. Martin "Two Brains" Taylor, is one. "Helicopter intellect", is another. A glance at his credentials show the plaudits are well-deserved.

The 46- year-old Wunderkind speaks eight languages, including Mandarin, which he chose"because it was difficult". Educated at Eton and Oxford, he followed graduation with a career that seemed as effortless as it was meteoric. It took him from being editor of the influential Lex column of the Financial Times, to head of Courtaulds Textiles before joining Barclays as chief executive five years ago, at 41.

He is one of Tony Blair's closest allies in the business world and earlier this year was made head of the Government's task force on welfare reform.

Though clearly brilliant, he is no cold fish and colleagues warm to his seductive combination of arrogant certainty and charm. His speech is fast and precise, the ideas tumbling from his mind almost as fast as he can shape them into words. Though his approach is laid-back, this is often mistaken for a lack of urgency. "Too precious for words," one City source says. In fact it stems more from his intellectual approach to problem solving.

Taylor is married with two children. Born in Burnley, he is the son of an RAF pilot who died when Taylor was eight. He showed early promise and gained a place at a Yorkshire prep school before winning a scholarship to Eton. After Oxford he worked as a journalist, spending four years at Reuters, the news agency, before joining the Financial Times. After several offers of jobs in the City he chose industry instead, and in 1982 joined Courtaulds as personal assistant to its then chairman, Sir Christopher Hogg, another Old Etonian. Seven years on and Taylor was made chief executive of Courtaulds Textiles, the clothing and thread part of the group. He was 38.

It wasn't long before Barclays came knocking. Though Taylor had banked with Barclays since he was 13 he had never worked in the industry. But the bank was crying out for someone with his strategic vision. Stuffy and family dominated, Barclays was in turmoil after a disastrous lending binge in the Eighties. Taylor was made chief executive in 1993. At 41 he was the youngest head of a UK clearing bank and an outsider in the pin-striped world of the Square Mile. He was also the first non-family member to run the Barclays fiefdom, which has been dominated by five families in its history. "At first I was astonished to be approached," he recalls. "Then I was fascinated."

Once in post he set about reform with gusto. Internal disciplines were tightened and more than a billion pounds was returned to shareholders. He sold off BZW, the equities division, and has more recently come under pressure to sell Barclays Capital, the bank's remaining investment banking operation. There have also been reports that Taylor wanted a merger between Barclays and another financial institution. Staff suggested a disagreement over strategy led to his decision.

Though he has quit with no job to go to, it seems certain Taylor will not be short of offers. Meanwhile, he can devote time to one of the few hobbies he lists among his interests: taking long walks in the country and talking to himself.