Top man's exit shakes Barclays: Respected finance director leaves to escape unhappy environment

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The Independent Online
THE DISARRAY at the top of Barclays reached a new peak yesterday when Peter Wood, the highly respected finance director who has worked for the bank since 1966, quit at short notice to join the far smaller Standard Chartered in the same job.

He is believed to be leaving because of unhappiness about the long-running turmoil at the top of Barclays rather than as a direct result of the announcement earlier this week that the bank is seeking an outside chief executive. A source close to Mr Wood said: 'He felt the environment at Barclays was not attractive or conducive to teamwork.'

The blow to Barclays' standing is particularly severe because Mr Wood was appointed to the board in June 1991 and so is one of the few members untainted by the lending decisions in the late 1980s that led to heavy losses last year.

Before becoming finance director he was group treasurer, in charge of, among other things, the bank's money market operations, so he was not involved with loans to the corporate and private customers who have lost the bank so much money.

Barclays denied speculation that his departure next month was a result of the announcement that a board committee is to mount a worldwide search for a new chief executive from outside the bank to take over part of the role of Andrew Buxton, currently chairman and chief executive.

The row over whether Mr Buxton should have a dual role or split his job at the head of the loss-making bank appeared to have been settled when the committee was set up.

In fact Mr Wood has made clear that he did not regard himself as a serious internal candidate for the job of chief executive, although his name had been mentioned as a possibility.

Observers said Mr Wood's departure was not sudden pique at the chief executive search but a symptom of deeper and longer-standing malaise at the top executive level.

Standard said Mr Wood made the decision to join on Monday. But he personally approached Malcolm Williamson, chief executive of Standard, for a job as long ago as January. This was after Mr Wood heard that Richard Stein, Standard's finance director, was to retire a year early.

Mr Williamson is a former senior Barclays executive who worked in the bank at the same time as Mr Wood. But Standard said that although they had met they had not been friends.

Mr Buxton did not learn the news of Mr Wood's departure until Monday afternoon. It is understood that, at Barclays' request, the news was delayed by Standard until after the Barclays announcement about the search for a new chief executive.

This gave time to appoint Oliver Stocken, finance director of Barclays de Zoete Wedd, the investment banking subsidiary, as Mr Wood's successor.

Mr Wood will be free to join Standard on 1 May, as his contract expires on 20 April. A Barclays spokesman said that although Mr Wood was to have the same job title, he had chosen to go to Standard because it brought wider responsibility in a smaller management group.

The Bank of England said it had used its own money, without a government guarantee, to support 'a few small banking institutions' in mid- 1991 when they came under pressure as local authorities withdrew funds after the BCCI closure. The confirmation followed a House of Lords question by Lord Spens, who claimed that NatWest had arranged a pounds 40m facility for City Merchant Bank with a secret indemnity from the Bank.

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