News Column

New Barclays chair should be female

August 12, 2014


IT'S TIME for a woman to be the chair of Barclays. And yes, simply because she is a woman, it would make things better.

Rona Fairhead, the former Financial Times boss and finance director of parent company Pearson, is rumoured to be on a shortlist to take over from Sir David Walker next year. She is a capable, dynamic executive, with great pedigree. But it's the fact that she's a woman that's making me cheer from the sidelines. Few banks need more change than the beleaguered blue eagle. And I can't resist the thought that it would be a game-changer for the bank, the industry, and many aspiring women packed into the marzipan layer of banking.

Women have not had enough role models at the top of the industry, and the few that have been prominent (there is just one at the top table) have not been diverse enough. That means those in my generation have seen only one type of successful female, which not everyone wants to emulate. Women should have more heroes to point to so they can pick and choose qualities they like most - just as men do.

Also, while Walker was a politically palatable choice in the aftermath of Libor, he has failed to rescue the bank's reputation, or to properly manage chief executive Anthony Jenkins. A board colleague complained privately of Jenkins: "He was the right man for the time, not the right man for the job."

And let's not forget Barclays's legacy issues, including Libor, PPI mis-selling, forex and dark pools.

In the midst of this political mudslide, Barclays is also haemorrhaging profits, which at the half-year point had fallen 7 per cent overall and 46 per cent in the investment bank. It stands precociously alongside America's big universal lenders. Rather than making it an export treasure, this has made it a punching bag in the row over bonuses.

So what is it about Fairhead that would make this mess look that bit tidier? Apart from her obvious credentials, simply being a woman will give her a different take in an environment where groupthink has allowed a litany of bad behaviour to flourish. The role shouldn't be passed on to another member of the old boys club. Let's have a bit of the Carolyn McCall touch - after all, her decision to change focus from cost-cutting to customer service at EasyJet has done wonders.

The real hurdle is likely to be whether Fairhead would even take the role, which could prove to be a poisoned chalice. For the sake of women, who make up 50 per cent of bank graduates but fail to stay on in those numbers after 30, I certainly hope she does.

Helia Ebrahimi is UK business editor at CNBC.

For more stories on investments and markets, please see HispanicBusiness' Finance Channel

Source: City A.M. (UK)

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