Outlook: Who said bankers have to be boring?...
Wednesday 28 July 1999
Now estranged from Ms Sten, heading for London and determined on filling the vacant chief executive's post at Barclays, he'll be hoping the British press takes less interest in his personal life and more in what he can do for one of the nation's largest clearing banks. Given the nature of our own dear tabloid press, that's almost certainly wishful thinking. Barclays directors had better hope that experience has made Mr Barrett more thick skinned than he was. They have already failed once to get a credible overseas banker into the hot seat. It wouldn't do to foul up a second time.
As it happens, Sir Peter Middleton, chairman of Barclays, has been doing perfectly well without a chief executive, but he promised the City he would eventually find one, and on paper at least, Mr Barrett seems to be about as good as they come. A flamboyant figure, Mr Barrett is credited with reinvigorating Bank of Montreal and restoring its fortunes, both nationally and internationally.
Perhaps ominously, there are some interesting parallels between Mr Barrett and his predecessor at Barclays, Martin Taylor. Both Mr Taylor and Mr Barrett were firm believers in the necessity and eventual inevitability of banking consolidation within their respective countries. Mr Taylor would sometimes point to Mr Barrett's attempts to merge with the Royal Bank of Canada as a harbinger of things to come in Britain, which has a quite similar banking structure to Canada. Either domestic banks are allowed through merger to get much bigger, he would say, or they would become bit players in a globalising economy, and eventually marginalised by giant international players.
Amen to that, Mr Barrett might say. Mr Taylor never got the chance to test his views, but Mr Barrett went so far as to argue them out before regulators, only to be rejected. Disillusioned and apparently without an alternative strategy for Bank of Montreal, he quit. Let's hope his period of gardening leave has given Mr Barrett adequate time for reflection. For the time being, the British Government appears no more receptive to the idea of banking mergers than its Canadian counterpart.
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