City: Dynamic duo

HAS Andrew Buxton, executive chairman of Barclays, pulled off a master stroke in appointing a talented young upstart like Martin Taylor to the post of chief executive, or has he signed his own death warrant?

By opting for Mr Taylor, Mr Buxton has certainly succeeded in addressing in radical form the intense City pressure that has built up for new blood at Barclays. On any criterion, this is a remarkable and brave appointment. Mr Taylor is a non-banker who knows little about banking (not that knowing about it seemed to do Barclays any good). Though he has undoubtedly proved himself an extremely capable and talented manager as chief executive of Courtaulds Textiles, his direct experience of business runs to little more than 10 years, and he owes his present position largely to the patronage of Sir Christopher Hogg.

Is the truth about Mr Taylor's appointment that he has been hired by Mr Buxton as a mere whipper-snapper, a brainbox, whom Mr Buxton will be able to use to his own ends to placate the City and bolster his position within the bank? Or will he, once he has learnt the ropes, become a serious challenge to his new boss? Is he a leader or a born number two (which is what he was at Courtaulds until a few months back when Sir Christopher bowed out)?

The view among a sizeable number of Barclays executives continues to be that Mr Buxton will be out within a couple of years. Eventually and inevitably, they say, he will be replaced as chairman by a non-executive, ambassadorial figurehead and Mr Taylor will be left as the real power in the land. I wouldn't be so sure of that, but it is pretty much a racing certainty that the cosy partnership both of them insist is possible and probable can't exist for much longer than the honeymoon period.

In any large company that intends going places, there can only be one boss, and Barclays is no different. No doubt the two will work together reasonably well for a while; Mr Taylor certainly needs all the help he can get in navigating his way round such a large and alien organisation.

I knew Mr Taylor vaguely when he was a financial journalist back in the early 1980s, and he's not a political animal. But nor is he someone who happily and unthinkingly works for others and executes their decisions. Both Mr Buxton and Mr Taylor insist there will be no showdown, that this is a genuine and workable partnership, but somehow I'd be amazed if both of them were still there in two years' time.

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