The 'helicopter intellect' flies in

IF MARTIN Taylor walks into your train carriage, you may be well advised not to say 'hello', wave or acknowledge his presence. Hide behind your paper and hope that he does not spot you.

The new chief executive of Barclays may be charming, affable and witty; but he is also intellectually exhausting. After five minutes' conversation about the logic of British Rail timetables or the intricacies of the European system of public holidays, you may want to retire to a dark room to absorb the vast amount of information that the 41-year-old from Rochdale has just imparted to you in his fearsome version of small talk.

It is not that Martin Taylor preaches at people; it is just that his photographic memory is so crammed full of challenging concepts that there are hardly enough hours in the day for him to discuss them. He speaks Chinese - which he studied at Oxford - Japanese, French and various other European languages fluently, and likes to read poetry and novels in their orginal. In conversation he talks so quickly that others in the room can take two or three minutes to catch up with his thought process.

The meteoric rise of Mr Taylor from writing the Lex column in the Financial Times to running Britain's largest bank in just 10 years does not surprise former colleagues. All testify to his brilliance. Brokers in the gilts market still remember his unanswerable tour de force, which simultaneously attacked the Bank of England, the government broker and the big investing institutions. When he left, Sir Geoffrey Owen, then editor of the FT, described him as a 'once-in-a-generation' financial journalist.

His move to industry was not pre-ordained. He was offered a number of City jobs but rejected them in favour of becoming personal assistant to Sir Christopher Hogg, Courtaulds' chairman, who describes him as 'an enormously able man whose abilities will be relevant to a whole range of pursuits'.

At the age of 34, Mr Taylor was parachuted into the troubled textiles division, which he turned around, although not without some large-scale closures that almost obliterated the British cotton-spinning industry. Three years ago he led the demerger of Courtaulds Textiles from its parent. He put in place a management structure, including a 30- year-old female non-accountant as finance director, and let it be known he would soon be leaving. Wrongly, the market assumed he would take charge at WH Smith, where he is a non-executive director.

Sipko Huismans, the chief executive of Courtaulds, praised what he called Mr Taylor's 'helicopter intellect'. 'Barclays may not always agree with what Martin tells them, but they will find it fun working with him.'

And, as one industrialist pointed out: 'He is 41. If Martin and Barclays don't hit it off, it's worse for them than for him. He can find another career. There isn't another Martin Taylor.'

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