Were Barclays shareholders sighing “if only …” when they saw Bill Winters’ first big announcement as the chief executive of Standard Chartered? You could hardly blame them if they were. Officially the management shake-up he unveiled at the emerging markets-focused bank was about “simplification”. Aren’t they all? In reality it’s about making it quite clear that StanChart is now the bank of Bill.
Many have suggested that he’d be the ideal man to fix Barclays. He ticks all the right boxes for running a global bank and seemed to be the heir apparent at JP Morgan before he was hustled out. But would he have been prepared to work under the chairmanship of John McFarlane at Barclays? More to the point, would any banker of similar standing?
It now looks as if Antony Jenkins, the Barclays chief executive whose departure Mr McFarlane engineered, may only be the first of some 30,000 people seeking pastures new as the latter gets his teeth into a bank he’ll be running while the search for a new boss is conducted.
Whoever that is will probably have to get used to Mr McFarlane breathing down their neck. They may struggle to stamp their authority on Barclays the way Mr Winters is stamping his authority on Standard Chartered. When they arrive they will have to see through a cost-cutting and reform programme that has already been set in train by Mr McFarlane.
This is why the bookies’ decision that Barclays’ finance director Tushar Morzaria is favourite to get the top job in due course looks wise. An alumnus of JP Morgan like Mr Winters, he has the required experience, but more importantly he is already working closely with Mr McFarlane having, crucially, established a rapport with him. That is probably more important than any of the business baubles on his CV.
The situation at StanChart is very different, with Sir John Peace, the incumbent chairman, set to depart next year. If Mr McFarlane could be criticised for seeking to do too much from the chairman’s seat, Sir John’s sin was doing too little.
Long term, the chairman striking a better balance at both banks will ultimately prove crucial to their successes.
Rees – the survivor with an ‘utterly nuts’ pay package
Perhaps the biggest surprise from the chill wind Mr Winters has blown through Standard Chartered is that his deputy hasn’t been blown over by it. At least not quite.
Mike Rees, who was paid an astonishing $72m (£46m) in the years following the financial crisis, has emerged as one of banking’s great survivors.
That pay package was memorably described as “utterly nuts from a shareholder perspective” by Chris Roebuck, a visiting professor at the Cass Business School – and no wonder. While StanChart came out of the crisis rather well, within a couple of years the wheels had started to fall off and yet Mr Rees continued to add to his sizeable fortune.
Earlier this year he survived the shake-up that saw the departure of his boss, Peter Sands, and head of Asia, Jaspal Bindra. And he has survived again, although various people who used to report to him will now be knocking directly on Mr Winters’s door.
Mr Rees has been left with the job of assisting with strategy, glad-handing big clients, and overseeing marketing and brand. The bank will doubtless deny it, but it does rather make him look like something of a glorified bag carrier cum ad man.
It’s almost comparable to the Chancellor, George Osborne, being offered the role of culture secretary and deputy prime minister by David Cameron. Can you imagine how he would respond to something like that?
Anyone fancy a bit of Network Rail?
The Greeks, who are supposed to be conducting a fire sale of state assets to keep their creditors on board, could do worse than follow the lead of our esteemed Chancellor. Having lined up a sale of the remains of the family silver, he’s now hunting around the kitchen for any remaining bits and pieces to punt down at his local bric-a-brac emporium.
One of these is Network Rail, the semi-nationalised owner of Britain’s rail infrastructure, the track, stations and so on. Advising on its future has become one of the hottest tickets in town for banks and accountants keen to cosy up to the Government – not least because a sell-off will be anything but simple, and complexity pays.
For starters, the company has a small mountain of debt that found its way on to the state’s books when it emerged from the ashes of Railtrack, the scandal-racked company that was forced into administration by the last Labour Government.
Certain members of its board are also chafing at the interference the Department for Transport exerts, having installed a “special director” responsible to the Secretary of State.
A sell-off, they believe, might provide them with a handy buffer. Unfortunately the whole shebang could just as easily hit the buffers. Judging by the botched way rail privatisation was handled in the first place – with regular rows and bouts of mutual blaming – the only certainty about a fresh privatisation is that passenger interests will be left in a siding.