Buxton takes back seat as families fade

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The Independent Online
THE APPOINTMENT of Martin Taylor is likely to mean the eclipse of Andrew Buxton and with it the end of 300 years of family dominance at the bank, according to City observers, writes John Willcock.

Barclays came under pressure to split the roles of chairman and chief executive almost as soon as Sir John Quinton retired from the top job last year.

Now that the bank has a young, highly respected and able new chief executive the consensus is that Mr Buxton's influence will fade away.

Mr Buxton will now act as executive chairman in charge of strategy and external relations. All heads of the bank's various divisions will report to Mr Taylor.

Mr Buxton's decision to combine the two top jobs after Sir John departed last year created anger in the City. Institutional shareholders leaned heavily on the bank to split the roles, not least because Mr Buxton was blamed for many of Barclays' problems. Yesterday he seemed to agree on the need for a split role. 'In a group the size of Barclays, which operates in 70 countries, there are clearly two jobs there.'

Barclays ran into far worse bad debt problems in the property and construction sectors than the other clearing banks. Mr Buxton was closely identified with the decision to continue lending heavily to property and building companies even after the Bank of England warned in 1989 that such lending was getting out of hand.

Mr Buxton was at the helm, for example, when Barclays lent heavily to the property developer Imry. The bank was forced last year to write off over pounds 240m on its loans to Imry.

Mr Buxton yesterday described how strategy was decided at Barclays: 'When it comes to the crunch it's a team effort.' However, he has tended to carry the can in the City's eyes.

Barclays was originally formed by a merger between 20 Quaker banking families in the 1890s. Despite the fall in the families' shareholding to roughly 1 per cent of the total, family members maintained a remarkable degree of influence inside the bank until recent years.

Now that influence looks set to wane. One analyst said yesterday: 'As far as the families are concerned Mr Buxton was the number 11 batsman. When the ball hits the wicket he will fade away.'