City: Fiery Baptism

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The Independent Online
ANDREW Buxton knew he was destined for a baptism of fire when he took up his position as chairman and chief executive of Barclays, but nothing could have prepared him for the onslaught he received. In the immediate wake of the recent figures - showing that the bank had slipped into the red for the first time in its 300- year history - the barrage of press and City criticism became so intense and personally wounding that his wife insisted they should break the habit of a lifetime and cancel the Sunday newspapers.

But Mr Buxton had to know what they were saying. He bought the lot and stoicly read through the legion of calls for his resignation. Nobody, I guess, gets to the position of chairman of an important clearing bank (even one where family pedigree such as Mr Buxton's still counts for so much) without having an exceptionally thick skin. Even the hide of a rhinoceros, however, would have been tested by the lambasting he has received. Throughout it all, he has shown a dogged determination and resilience that has astonished and impressed even his enemies within the Barclays hierarchy.

Securing wider City acceptance is proving more problematic, though the maelstrom that hit him at the time of the figures now seems to be abating. Over the last few weeks, Mr Buxton has embarked on a series of meetings with large institutional shareholders and apparently none has told him to his face that he ought to go.

There seems to be a growing, if grudging, acceptance that Mr Buxton is there to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. By agreeing to bring in an outsider as chief executive, he seems to have bought himself a little time.

Institutions have been telling Mr Buxton that they would like the new man to be a non-banker able to bring a fresh view on organisation, management structure, controls and the potential for cost-cutting. That surely must be music to Mr Buxton's ears, for essentially it will allow him to remain as the all-powerful banker at the top of the organisation with a professional manager below him to run the show and take the inevitable flak for what is bound to be a period of great internal upheaval for the bank - rather in the style of the landlord and his gamekeeper. Almost by chance rather than design, the situation might be turning to Mr Buxton's advantage.

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