Barclays' chief looks ready to bow out

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The Independent Online

Matthew Barrett, the tough-talking Irish-Canadian who swung into the City four years ago after an eventful marriage to a model who posed naked, looks as if he may be about to step down as chief executive of Barclays.

Officially, the word is that a statement will be made to the London Stock Exchange as soon as the board has made or ratified a decision. That will happen by 30 October, after a two-day meeting of the directors due to be held in Rome, but close observers believe that the pressure will build to the point where something will have to be said before then.

The internal competition to succeed Mr Barrett appears to be down to two candidates: the finance director, John Varley, and Bob Diamond, the American who runs Barclays Capital and chairs Barclays Global Investors. Mr Diamond is arguably the more powerful but Mr Varley is believed to have a stronger grip on the retail side of the group, which is seen as the major profits generator in the next few years.

If Mr Barrett wishes, he will probably have the backing of the board and leading shareholders for him to become chairman. This would breach the letter of the Higgs code on boardroom behaviour, but that can be overruled by shareholder approval.

However, those close to Mr Barrett say he is showing little appetite for such promotion. Instead he may decide that, while there is much to do at Barclays, this would be a good time to usher in a completely new regime.

When he arrived, he was Barclays' fourth chief executive in four months (one stayed only a day), so the board was not going to be as choosy as usual about Mr Barrett's private life. They wanted someone who could knock the banking group into shape, and he has. Pre-tax profits have risen from £2.5bn to £3.2bn, with another increase on the cards this year. Now the wide, open spaces of the Canadian prairies seem to be beckoning again.