Mark Leftly: Jenkins is the very cure the spin-doctors ordered
Barclays chose its new chief executive to be the perfect antidote to the brash, flamboyant Bob Diamond, and, so far, he's proved equal to the task
Barclays' in-house spin-doctors and external public relations advisers have certainly earned their corn, portraying their new boss, Antony Jenkins, as a homely successor to the seemingly ruthless, disgraced Bob Diamond.
Make no mistake, the previously low-profile Jenkins, who has been promoted from head of retail banking, is every inch a PR-driven appointment. This, though, is not necessarily a bad thing.
There was a slightly muted reaction to Jenkins's appointment as Barclays' chief executive on Thursday. But to have appointed a big name like Bill Winters, the former co-chief executive of JP Morgan's investment banking arm, would only make any later fall as damaging as Diamond's, who left in the fallout from the Libor rate-rigging scandal.
And how well those spinmeisters briefed Jenkins. In newspaper interviews on Thursday, he dropped in mentions of his missus – "When I woke up this morning and my wife asked me how I felt, I said I felt ready" – and he visited the Barclays' branch in South Kensington, where he started as a graduate trainee nearly 30 years ago. Shame that branch is shutting down, but you can't have everything.
This was banking's equivalent to an episode of The Waltons – it was noted that Jenkins, like John-Boy, was the first of his family to go to university. This was a sepia-tinted attempt to tell us that here is a man who has not forgotten the age of the local bank manager, and that a line had been drawn under the era of the brash American rainmaker who made no secret of his love of headline-grabbing investment banking deals.
Barclays has clearly learnt some techniques of modern politics, which is essentially PR with a few policies and the odd war thrown in as nods to the origins of democratic government. Jenkins didn't kiss a baby (a rare bad miss by the Barclays PR team), but he did have to be approved by the Financial Services Authority, who wanted the next boss of the scandal-ridden bank to have an image that was the polar opposite of the pushy, aggressive, chauffeur-driven Diamond.
In politics, the dour and staid so often follows the flashy, and vice-versa – Gordon Brown after Tony Blair, David Cameron after Michael Howard – therefore, making up for whatever attributes the predecessor lacked.
No doubt a certain level of intellectual brilliance is necessary to reach the highest echelons of both professions – whatever Roy Jenkins might have said of Blair's "second-class brain", the man was an Oxbridge graduate and talented lawyer, while John Major's lack of university education belied what Margaret Thatcher considered a supreme mind – so it would be wrong to dismiss Jenkins's ability to run Barclays.
However, what is much more important right now is not what he does but what he says he's going to do. Jenkins must convey the impression that Barclays will be a more humble institution that will lend to small businesses and not be in thrall to shareholders.
He got off to a good start by abandoning Diamond's cost of equity target, essentially the rate of return to shareholders, of 13 per cent by 2013. Much like Blair's ditching of Clause Four, which hadn't held any real weight for years, this was a largely symbolic manoeuvre as Barclays was highly unlikely to hit that target anyway.
Similarly, he has accepted a base salary of £1.1m, less than Diamond's and, so he says, below the median for FTSE 100 bosses. In the wake of the shareholder spring and the mood against Barclays, which has been hardened by the Serious Fraud Office investigation into payments between the bank and Qatar Holding, it's not as if Jenkins could have got away with a much bigger pay deal anyway.
The presentation, though, was spot on. You only have to look over at Lloyds and Antonio Horta-Osorio, who was the first banking chief to agree to settle payment protection insurance claims. The industry had already lost in court, was unlikely to win in the future, but he took the credit for being the first to admit defeat.
Even when Horta-Osorio took time off for medical leave over stress last year, unthinkable and unforgivable in the hard man pre-credit crunch era, it made him seem more human. Lloyds' reputation among its customers, who are surely less likely to move their bank accounts now, has certainly improved as a result of Horta-Osorio's presentation skills.
Barclays will be hoping for the same. As will the Government and the FSA. Those institutions know that the country can ill-afford to have a public and media that is so against the banks. These must attract high-quality graduates and stay based in the UK, with an economy that has become so reliant on them over the decades.
A PR-driven appointment is not as bad as it first sounds.
Margareta Pagano is away
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