Barclays: Untold Ricci

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The departure of the investment banking chief heralds more uncertainty for Barclays.

Antony Jenkins, the chief executive of Barclays
Antony Jenkins, the chief executive of Barclays, has spent a lot of time telling the markets what was wrong with the bank that he inherited and how he plans to make things better.

One of his many mantras is that he intends to make Barclays the ‘go-to’ bank. With all the upheaval in its senior management over the past few months, the ‘go-from’ bank is a more apt description.

The latest big-name departures are Rich Ricci, head of the corporate and investment bank; and Tom Kalaris, who ran the wealth management business as well as more recently the Americas division.

Parting company with these senior managers was probably inevitable, given their close association with the regime of former CEO Bob Diamond, whose legacy Jenkins has done much to trash since ascending the Barclays seat of power. But that does not make it the right decision for Barclays and its shareholders.

Both Ricci and Kalaris were among the key architects, along with the also-departed former markets chief Jerry del Missier and finance director Chris Lucas, of the stunning transformation of Barclays from a sleepy, UK-focused middle-tier bank into one of the world’s most important financial institutions.

For all that Barclays has problems to solve, and actions to apologize for, this achievement is too often forgotten by those now running Barclays, Jenkins and new chairman David Walker among them.

Rich Ricci, who resigned from Barclays
Ricci is a prime example of this. He’s been pilloried in the press for making money and enjoying the fruits of his success, notably through his frequently winning stable of racehorses. Ricci, it seems, has come to epitomize everything that is wrong with the banking industry today.

Yes, he can come across as brash and outspoken, and the name hasn’t helped – and neither has the fact that he is an American in a senior role at a big UK bank.

But Ricci also has personality and drive, two traits that did much to propel Barclays to the higher reaches of the investment banking league tables, and which a new breed of bank chiefs seem to often lack.

If nothing else, he played a key role in helping to secure Lehman Brothers’ US operations and integrate them quickly, which has been the single biggest factor in Barclays not only surviving the financial crisis but generating decent profits in most years since.

He has also been remarkably loyal to Barclays. Yes, he’s been handsomely paid for that loyalty – and he had a blind spot about the compensation culture at the bank, struggling to accept that all staff would take their cue from the top people at Barclays and how much they paid themselves.

But the easiest thing would have been for Ricci to leave with Diamond and del Missier. He did not, despite knowing that his own reputation would come in for a battering the longer he stayed on. He did so because of pride in what he had helped create, a commitment to see the firm placed on a more stable footing, and a desire to help those below him keep that legacy intact.

More than that, it’s little known just how close Barclays came to appointing an outsider to run the bank when Diamond left. Ricci’s support for Jenkins – and the continuity his appointment would provide – was a crucial factor in getting the former head of retail banking the job of running one of the world’s biggest universal banks.

As Ricci heads off for a new challenge, that’s something that Jenkins would do well to remember.