Monthly Archives: August 2012

Andrew Hill

Barclays may rue having declared its involvement in the Libor lending rate scandal first, but as a consequence it has had first choice of “City grandees” to replace its chairman, Marcus Agius. The bank has managed to land the grandest of those grandees, Sir David Walker.

Author of the Walker report on governance in the financial system (probably the most downloaded document at Barclays’ HQ this week), Sir David is the squeaky-clean face of the old word-is-my-bond City of London, with experience on both sides of the regulatory fence. In 2009, he was one of five wise heads appointed by the Financial Services Authority to vet senior appointments to UK financial institutions (it might be interesting to know just how many of the current and outgoing crop of Barclays’ senior management he helped to approve). If you’re in doubt about what a grandee is, or whether you are one, take my patented multiple-choice questionnaire, published at the time. Read more

Andrew Hill

Obituaries of Sir Bernard Lovell, the driving force behind the UK’s Jodrell Bank radio-telescope, are a reminder of the risks of allowing short-term budget control to get in the way of long-term vision. As my colleague Clive Cookson wrote in the FT:

The project, funded by the government and Nuffield Foundation, ran far over budget and well behind schedule but Sir Bernard’s persuasive powers saw it through to completion.

The Telegraph’s obituary explains that the “building work was plagued by strikes, bureaucratic delays, delivery failures and escalating raw material costs”.

Following a parliamentary Public Accounts Committee investigation, Lovell faced a £1m lawsuit from his own engineer, with the threat of imprisonment if he couldn’t pay. As he explained in a fascinating video interview in 2007, the misunderstandings and legal battles put him under enormous stress. The use of the telescope to detect and track the recently launched Soviet Sputnik had underlined the national importance of the project, ensuring its future. But Lovell recalled:

Those years, particularly 1958, which should have been years of great, great, great relief and pleasure, with the telescope working and all the press in favour, were years of great depression and anxiety.

 Read more

Andrew Hill

The sense of shock in London about the allegations levelled against Standard Chartered goes well beyond the stock market where – as of mid-morning on Tuesday – the shares were down by nearly a quarter.

The group is virtually the only large UK bank not to have suffered serious reputational damage over the past five years. That’s partly because its operations are mostly outside the UK and other developed markets, partly, the bank would say, because of its strong culture.

As a result of that unique position – and the high reputation of its senior management — it was the safe harbour of choice for government ministers and their advisers in autumn 2008, when the rest of the UK banking sector was on the brink of collapse. The recapitalisation and rescue plan for the industry, later copied elsewhere, was cooked up in its boardroom, with the help of its top executives, generating a mass of laudatory coverage. Read more

Andrew Hill

The euphoria at Nasa over the successful landing of Curiosity on Mars is infectious. The public seems to have joined the scientists’ celebrations with a fervour similar to that shown by the British for their Olympic team’s successes. As one wag posted on Twitter: “Gold medal for Nasa in the 563 billion metres.”

Be careful, though, in extrapolating from either the Mars mission or the Olympic triumphs the easy conclusion that “aiming high” gets results. As I’ve written, the achievement of even quite small steps can have measurably positive effects on a team’s performance and morale. Similarly, missing the big goal might prove a crushing blow – I watch some of those heart-rending interviews with athletes that fell short of their and their countries’ expectations at the Olympics and wonder how they will start to recover. Read more

This weekend, NBC kicked off its expensive coverage of the London Olympics by cutting out the part of the opening ceremony that commemorated the victims of the July 7, 2005 bombings, in favour of a soft soap interview with Michael Phelps, the record-breaking swimmer. Then, when Phelps swam (and lost) the next day, it waited eight hours to televise him in action.