Agius bows out after losing support

 
Kasmira Jefford
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CITY GRANDEE Marcus Agius, 65, who is poised to resign as group chairman of Barclays, was seen as a welcome but unexpected addition to the banking giant’s board when he first joined from the smaller Lazard in 2006.

At that time, Agius was at the height of a lengthy 34-year career at the blue-blooded advisory bank and had built a reputation as one of the City’s most important dealmakers and Lazard’s most valuable bankers.

As head of Lazard’s London arm, Agius – known for his charm and impeccable dress sense – cultivated connections in some of Britain’s top boardrooms. His clients included FTSE firms Pearson and British Land and he was a key adviser on the merger between Halifax and Bank of Scotland.

Agius was also non-executive chairman of BAA until 2006, where he played a pivotal role in persuading Ferrovial, the Spanish support services giant, to pay a top-of-the-range £10bn takeover price for the airport operator, cementing his reputation as a smooth negotiator.

One former colleague of Agius, who worked with him during a stint at Lazard, said he was a “brilliant hired gun, possibly one of the best in the City”. If a client came to him with a plan, he could execute it perfectly. But, he said, he was perhaps less good at devising a strategy.

Viewed as a safe pair of hands, Agius was recruited by Barclays to replace Matthew Barrett in 2006 and the banking veteran is said to have accepted without hesitation.

The former colleague, however, suggested he might have found the organisation very different to Lazard, which at the time he was there employed just 700 people.

“The two organisations are so different, with Barclays being far more complex. I'm not sure how well he would have been suited to it and there’s no way he would have been able to stand up to a strong man like Bob Diamond.”

Agius has had to grapple with numerous investor grievances over the past six years. In 2008, he sought to appease angry shareholders over the bank’s decision to raise funds from Middle Eastern investors, rather than taking advantage of the government’s bail-out cash.

But his relationship with shareholders was further frayed following the revolt over Diamond’s £17m pay package at the company’s annual general meeting this May.

Agius lost the support of some of the board over his handling of the row, which saw him apologise to shareholders for the way the matter had been communicated.

But now the Libor scandal and the emails revealing the way that Barclays traders attempted to manipulate the interest rates has unleashed public and shareholder anger that far surpasses any challenges Agius has faced to date.

Born in 1946, Agius came from a formal background. He was educated at St George’s College in Weybridge, a private and mainly day school. But a colleague who knows him from the early days of his career said he wished he had been a boarder at a more established school.

“He had a huge chip on his shoulder, being one of the few people at Lazard that hadn’t been to boarding school,” the person said, adding that for many years Agius’ aims also included becoming a member of White’s, the exclusive club – an ambition he later achieved.

He earned a masters degree in Mechanical Sciences and Economics from Trinity Hall, Cambridge and also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Agius’s wife, Kate, is the daughter of Edmund de Rothschild, who was chairman of NM Rothschild before his cousin, Sir Evelyn. They have two children.

The veteran also serves as chairman of the British Bankers’ Association, a business ambassador for UK Trade & Investment and a non-executive director on the BBC’s executive board. A keen gardener, he is a trustee of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Those who know him well say he loved his Barclays role: “He will be gutted at losing this job. He loved everything about it...becoming chairman of Barclays was a real pinnacle.”