Simon Fox of Trinity Mirror, the UK newspaper and publishing group, is the latest chief executive to attempt to give a restructuring plan a sense of focus, simplicity and unity by attaching “One” to the company name. “One Trinity Mirror” – which unifies the regional and national newspaper divisions under a “flatter, more efficient management structure” – follows in the footsteps of One Ford, One Siemens, and One Anglo (at Anglo American), to name just a handful.
I prefer the “One” theme to some of the other names applied to past restructurings. Among my least favourite: “Shape 2012″ at Metro, the German retailer (“Pear-shaped 2012″ would have been more appropriate, as one observer pointed out ); Reuters’ “Fast Forward” – a scheme that predated the Thomson merger and led to mordant humour among the newly redundant about having been “fast-forwarded”; and law firm Linklaters’ “Project New World“, with its sinister Aldous Huxley overtones.
Bob Diamond arriving to give evidence to the Treasury Select Committee on interest rate fixing. Getty Images
Bob Diamond’s keenly awaited appearance before the Treasury select committee promised much and has so far (it was still going on when I broke off to write this post) offered very little for those seeking to know more about the Libor rate-fixing scandal.
But I think the former Barclays chief executive’s responses have shed light on one puzzle: how did the bank underestimate the public revulsion to the outcome of the investigation so badly? The short answer: the bank thought it would receive more credit in the court of public opinion for having helped expose the mess.
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talented individuals have been laid low by external “events” – the word used in Mr Agius’s resignations statement (now rescinded).
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.
I wrote in my FT column about Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, whose remuneration was rejected by 60 per cent of shareholders on Wednesday, and the fact that most CEOs demand to be paid at least as much as their rivals.
That leads to the steady ratcheting up of pay that has enraged UK investors in this year’s “shareholder spring”.
But one aspect of companies such as Barclays and WPP, home to the two highest-paid UK chief executives, is less noticed. It is that the bosses of investment banks and marketing groups tend to compare themselves not just to outsiders, but to the people within their organisations.
Investment banks such as Barclays Capital, employ traders and bankers who earn more than their CEOs, but are invisible because they are not on the board, and so their pay remains secret. Bob Diamond, Barclays’ chief executive and the former head of the investment bank, is the public target.
There’s a famous scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep, as the terrifying editor of a Vogue-like fashion magazine, lectures dowdily dressed Anne Hathaway on the way her “lumpy blue sweater” is, in fact, distantly influenced by the catwalk collections of Oscar de la Renta and Yves St Laurent.
In the same way, are the recent votes of institutional shareholders against executive pay somehow an echo of the Occupy movement’s vocal, if ill-focused, protests, from Wall Street to the City of London?
I think they are. But it suits both sides to disagree, even if the most productive changes in the way capitalism has historically functioned might be achieved by greater engagement.