Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Refreshingly Boring - but Ethically Sound

It's rare, in today's world, to be heartened by anything to do with the banks but that is precisely how I feel thanks to last week’s story about Barclays' boss Antony Jenkins.

Jenkins has told the bank's 140,000 staff to buy in to its new code of conduct - or leave.

Leading by Example

Described by The Guardian as "a refreshingly boring banker", Jenkins has had his work cut out since his appointment at the end of August last year. He replaced Bob Diamond when the former CEO was forced out by the Libor fixing scandal. Barclays was fined £290m in June 2012 for its part in the scandal, and its troubles didn't end there. It is fair to say that Jenkins walked into a maelstrom, with a daunting task: to restore public confidence in an institution whose reputation has been absolutely shattered.

How to do this? Doubtless spin-doctors would come up with a variety of clever strategies, and it is just as certain that behind the scenes Jenkins would have been met with a bewildering array of tasks. But, for me, one thing was blatantly obvious: Jenkins needed to bring sound ethical principles back to Barclays. He needed to establish a professional ethos and set the tone and lead by example.

An Ethical Blueprint

Last week's announcement that bonuses and performance will now be assessed against a new 'purpose and values' blueprint goes some way to achieve this. Jenkins has not pulled his punches, and, in telling staff to sign up to five key values - respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship - he has positioned himself and Barclays firmly against the malpractice of the past.

Consider his words, as disseminated in a memo last Thursday:

"I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of you … will enthusiastically support this move. But there might be some who don't feel they can fully buy into an approach which so squarely links performance to the upholding of our values. My message to those people is simple: Barclays is not the place for you. The rules have changed. You won't feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won't feel comfortable with you as colleagues."

Jenkins' firm leadership is to be applauded. It is a stance that those in positions of power, whether in politics, the professions or elsewhere, would do well to emulate.