Latest industry views and advice

February 18

Peeking behind the curtains of Barclays Bank’s Strategic Review, one can imagine a corporate reputation superhero getting into costume.

Anthony Jenkins, group chief executive of Barclays, may well be concealing a Superman leotard beneath his standard issue pinstripe suit of  the City executive; his early performance as the architect of Barclays’ reinvention is certainly something that denotes a “man of steel”.

And although the aspiration to make Barclays the “Go-To” bank could have benefited from a better strapline, it’s Jenkins’ “gauntlet throwing” that is the important dimension of his quest to restore the bank’s corporate reputation.

His speech to herald the first day in a new future for Barclays takes only four paragraphs to get to the point:

“My absolute conviction is that there is no choice between doing well financially and behaving well in this business. Indeed, I believe that we will not be able to generate sustainable returns over the long term unless we act at all times with good values. My overall message today is simple. Barclays is changing. There will be no going back to the old way of doing things.”

And he’s not minced his words with Barclays staff who might be tempted to treat the Strategic Review as a PR stunt and to carry on with the “old ways of doing things”: it’s his way, or the highway!

The path has been clearly laid out and all credit to Jenkins for taking the initiative to do so with such vigour – though, it could be said, there was never a more fertile time within Barclays to “plough” a morally barren field and “sew the seeds” of corporate reputation renewal. However, the challenge in such a large organisation that has ploughed – defiantly – its own questionable furrows, will be making it work and proving that culture change is possible and not just window dressing.

Some voices retain a degree of scepticism about the likely outcome of Jenkins’ project, as the Telegraph’s banking editor, Harry Wilson, says in his analysis of the Strategic Review: “As Mr Jenkins will soon discover, if he does not already know, there are some corners of banking that will defy all his attempts to turn them into exemplars of good behaviour and morality.”

In this excellent collection of insights into culture change from corporate leaders and commentators, independent analyst Louise Cooper sums up the task ahead for Jenkins:

“For those seeking to make the changes, it is important to realise it is a long process. It is a sad comment on human nature that bad behaviour spreads like wildfire through an organisation and yet good behaviour takes for ever to develop. Leaders get the organisations they deserve.”

I tend to concur with Clinton Manning’s analysis in PR Week’s Hit or Miss column that the “early signs” for Jenkins “are promising”. And I’d like to believe his promise to “shred” the legacy of predecessor, Bob Diamond, was a choice of word that deliberately echoed another discredited banker, Fred “the shred” Goodwin.

In short, not only is the tainted corporate reputation of Barclays going in the shredder, so is the tainted reputation of bankers.


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