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Barclays: Is Martin Taylor's halo slipping?

With his fluent MBA-speak and breezy openness Martin Taylor, chief executive of Barclays, has charmed shareholders and colleagues alike. But is their rapturous applause of his every move overdone? Is Taylor a genius or just brilliant at public relations? Brian Caplen analyzes the man and his strategy.

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On the evidence of his most ardent supporters Martin Taylor, chief executive of the British clearing bank Barclays, is destined for nothing less than sainthood. Appointed two years ago to do one of the toughest jobs in UK banking, he has convinced shareholders and staff that he is the bank's saviour. Ask a Taylorite to characterize the man and a string of superlatives gushes forth: brilliant intellectual, warm personality, rational, intuitive, tough, humane, erudite, approachable, far-sighted, down-to-earth, an outsider, insightful.

But, given the failure of the British banks to become leading international players, are the tireless efforts of even the most talented individual enough to make Barclays world-class?

One or two analysts who remain stubbornly outside the Taylor adoration circle are beginning to wonder. They argue that in spite of Taylor's undoubted qualities, the underlying substance of what he has achieved at Barclays is less than it appears. The debate over loan-loss provisions, the share buy-backs, the internal restructuring, the focus on Europe - all have been much more dramatic at the ideas stage than in their ultimate effect.