Buxton seeks to ditch chief executive post

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The Independent Online
ANDREW BUXTON, the beleaguered chairman and chief executive of Barclays Bank, yesterday began an aggressive rearguard action to preserve as much of his power as possible against growing calls for his resignation.

Rather than lose the role of chief executive to someone else, he wants it axed and replaced by the lower-ranking job of chief operating officer. He would remain executive chairman.

It also emerged yesterday that the search for a candidate is still at an early stage, despite Barclays announcing three months ago that it planned to split the jobs. Mr Buxton has begun a programme of presentations to restore confidence in his stewardship after the disclosure last week that Barclays lost more than pounds 2.5bn in sour loans last year.

The bank said yesterday that no decision on whether to seek an internal or external appointment would be made until the presentation programme was completed.

However, Mr Buxton's concession is unlikely to satisfy some institutional shareholders who blame him for Barclays' disastrous lending spree between 1988 and 1990, and want him sacked.

Other institutions would be prepared to see him stay on if he can spell out a credible recovery strategy and as long as a strong, experienced clearing banker is brought in to dilute his power.

Barclays insiders yesterday confirmed Mr Buxton's earlier claim that heads had already rolled following poor lending decisions, but not at the highest level. The way lending decisions are made is also under review.

A Barclays spokesman denied the change of job title was a fudge to allow Mr Buxton to retain his power: 'A great deal of Mr Buxton's responsibilities will be devolved in the position.'

However, he added: 'The job may not necessarily be called chief executive, given we have three chief executives here already.' This was a reference to David Band, Alastair Robinson and Peter Wood, divisional heads respectively of the securities house BZW, banking and finance. It is not clear where the new position would rank vis a vis these three.

Although each of them is well regarded, none is considered ideal for promotion. According to one Barclays watcher, Mr Band lacks the necessary gravitas, Mr Wood lacks the leadership skills, and Mr Robinson lacks the common touch.

The chief worry in the bank is that there is no one with the charisma and glad-handing skills to restore the low morale in the branches. Mooted external candidates include Malcolm Williamson of Standard Chartered and Brian Pearse of Midland, both former Barclays executives.

The creation of a chief operating officer post would take Barclays back to the kind of management structure it had before 1988. Then Peter Leslie was chief general manager under the chairman, Sir Timothy Bevan.

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