Barclays has finally got the order of resignations the right way round. Bob Diamond’s departure – and the temporary restoration of Marcus Agius as chairman, a day after announcing his own exit – hands the can to the man who should have carried it in the first place.
As I wrote in my column on Monday, after Mr Agius said he would go, the resignation of the chairman didn’t mean Mr Diamond had “dodged the bullet aimed at both of them”.
Yet I still think there is worrying evidence that Barclays senior directors are in denial. In ringing the wagons against outside attack, they seem to be pursuing the line that talented individuals have been laid low by external “events” – the word used in Mr Agius’s resignations statement (now rescinded). Read more
As his job security plummets in line with Barclays’ share price, Bob Diamond is haunted by what he said in the BBC Today Business Lecture last year about culture:
Culture is difficult to define, I think it’s even more difficult to mandate – but for me the evidence of culture is how people behave when no one is watching.
But Mr Diamond didn’t suddenly wake up to the importance of a strong corporate culture after becoming chief executive of Barclays. He’s been talking about it for years and mainly with reference to his “no jerk” rule at Barclays Capital, the investment banking arm he used to run and that was home to the trading “dudes” skewered in the Libor-fixing scandal. Here he is talking about the rule in an interview with The Times last December:
If someone can’t behave with their colleagues and can’t be part of the culture, it doesn’t matter how good they are at what they do, they have to be asked to leave. You know what a jerk is when you see it. If we ever ignore the rule it always comes back to haunt us.
It was “values” day in many McKinsey offices on Friday – the annual occasion when staff take a break from client work to reflect on the principles underpinning the management consultancy. Rarely can they have had before them a case study as timely and as dramatic as that of their former head, Rajat Gupta, who was convicted that day of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud related to trading in Goldman Sachs’ stock by Raj Rajaratnam’s Galleon hedge fund.
At “the Firm”, the impact of Gupta’s decline and fall is still felt deeply. As I wrote last year in my analysis of how McKinsey was handling the scandal, “what shocks staff and alumni is that Rajat Gupta should stand accused of precisely [the] sins of self-enrichment and self-aggrandisement” that its legendary former chief Marvin Bower abhorred.
One former partner told me on Friday that “the most aggrieved groups are alumni and senior partners who knew Rajat Gupta and continue to be somewhat baffled by what led him to do this”. Another ex-McKinseyite, Roger Parry, now chairman of UK pollster YouGov, admitted to feeling “a little bit devalued and diminished” by the scandal.
But my sense is that while the trial brought punishment and humiliation for Gupta (who will appeal against the verdict), it did not add much to McKinsey’s embarrassment. The firm will not comment but no doubt it hopes the trial has drawn a line under the affair. Read more
It will be a shame if bitter and partisan debate over whether Rupert Murdoch is “a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company” obscures the more important conclusion of the UK parliament’s culture, media and sport committee on phone-hacking: that he and his son James were wilfully blind to what was going on.
Whether BSkyB, controlled by the Murdoch-owned News Corp, is a “fit and proper” owner of a broadcasting licence is a question for Ofcom, the regulator, which has now entered an “evidence-gathering” phase of its probe.
But as even the dissenting members of the committee said on Tuesday, if the “fit person” line had been omitted from the report, they would have voted unanimously to back it, including the charge that the Murdochs oversaw a culture of wilful blindness. Read more
The problem with conventional wisdom is that academics will insist on testing whether it is truly wise.
So the popular assumption that Lehman Brothers would not have collapsed if it had been Lehman Sisters (to quote, among others, European commissioner Viviane Reding and former UK minister Harriet Harman) seems to take a knock from a new discussion paper published by Germany’s Bundesbank. It concludes:
Board changes that result in a higher proportion of female executives also lead to a more risky conduct of business.
By James Mackintosh, investment editor
Arise, Mr Fred Goodwin. The banker who single-handedly brought down the British banking system has had his knighthood stripped away, and no one is sorry. Politicians, the public and the press are united in supporting the move against the former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland.
The pitchfork-wielding mob is wrong. Read more
Politicians would like to think that Stephen Hester’s decision to give up his bonus marks the start of a mass renunciation of “excessive pay” by private sector bosses. It is certainly time the UK corporate and political world moved on and refocused on what is really important: i.e. how to restore growth. But far from starting a trend, the Royal Bank of Scotland CEO’s case is unique. Here are three reasons why: Read more
For the world’s financial elite, now might be a good time to be on a Swiss mountainside, protected by a cordon of armed police, and able to take one’s mind off things by skiing and popping into a private bank.
The internet industry scored a tactical victory this week with Wednesday’s blackout of sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit, and the White House’s decision to oppose parts of two bills intended to curb the file-sharing of films and copyrighted material. “Piracy rules,” tweeted Rupert Murdoch angrily.
“Secretive hedge fund manager” is one of those adjectival pairings to rank with “flamboyant impresario” and “introverted computer programmer” as a journalistic cliché. So when I read the headline “Hedge funds lobby SEC over secrecy rule” in Monday’s FT, I naturally assumed the hedgies wanted the US regulator to erect even higher walls around them. Not so.
Colleague Sam Jones points out that at least part of the myth of secretive hedge funds is constructed on the regulatory legacy of rule 502(c) of Regulation D. This “arcane piece of Depression-era legislation… defines how the modern hedge fund industry operates”, outlawing general advertising and solicitation by funds but also making them paranoid about talking to any “unqualified outsiders”. The Managed Funds Association, the funds’ US lobby group, has written to the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking its elimination. Read more
Those asking themselves if they can trust Britain’s tabloid newspapers any more won’t have been reassured this week by Piers Morgan, the CNN chat show host, who appeared before an official inquiry into the News of the World phone hacking scandal to cast doubt on both his memory and his memoirs.
Whoever thought up Amazon’s latest idea for squeezing other retailers – offering money off to people who scanned prices in US stores with its smartphone app and then bought the goods on Amazon – deserves an award for bad timing.
Despite the criticism that rating agencies have endured in the past three years – much of it justified – someone at Standard & Poor’s retains a sense of humour.
When it comes to companies, the less murk, the better.
In the new edition of London Review of Books, author and journalist John Lanchester points out that three recent corporate “outrages” – the sale of UK lender Northern Rock to Virgin Money, the collapse of MF Global, and the Olympus scandal – share “a crucial similarity”:
An interested outside party, paying the closest of attention, and immersing herself in all the publicly available information, would have had no chance of knowing what was really going on.
Fraud did not directly trigger Enron’s bankruptcy 10 years ago. The underlying criminal conspiracy was only fully revealed later. Enron’s failure was, initially, due to a classic collapse in counterparty confidence. It was a death spiral – starkly familiar to everyone who watched the 2008 implosion of Lehman Brothers – that ended on December 2 2001.
It is too easy to blame the energy trader’s demise only on bad people doing bad deeds and fail to learn the lessons. Plenty of watchdogs that should have barked in 2001, if not earlier – directors, auditors and regulators, of course, but also rating agencies, Wall Street research analysts, investors and, yes, the media – kept quiet. Read more
The US justice system is an unlovely affair of frantic litigation by too many lawyers in too many courts, with expensive and patchy results. But occasionally a judge wields his power for the public good.
I have a soft spot for US judge Jed Rakoff, who has just thrown a large legal wrench into the decades-old mechanism of redress between Wall Street banks, investors and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
I first came across him nearly 10 years ago when he presided over the extraordinarily complex litigation between JP Morgan and a bunch of insurers about offshore financing the bank had arranged for Enron. Witty, sharp, quoteworthy and unmistakeable – with his white beard, he looks like one of those wise judges who administer 23rd century justice in sci-fi movies – he is a journalist’s dream. Read more