The bold banker who led Barclays’ shake-up

Marion Dakers
ROBERT E Diamond Junior isn’t going down without a fight. The belligerent Barclays chief executive, once described as the “unacceptable face of banking”, has had a career of hard-won deals, boardroom battles and bruising run-ins with regulators to prepare him for today’s parliamentary showdown.

Massachusetts-born Diamond spent 16 years at Barclays, turning the investment bank into a global contender before taking the reins of the group 18 months ago.

He is a trader at heart, having led fixed income trading at Morgan Stanley and spent 18 years based in Tokyo as head of global fixed income and foreign exchange at Credit Suisse First Boston.

His first job was as a business lecturer at the University of Connecticut, where he earned his MBA – a post he used in a BBC lecture in November 2011 to paint himself as a contrite former teacher, keen for his bank to make amends as a corporate citizen.

But he is better remembered for his comments a few months prior, gaining notoriety as the defiant face of the industry by telling MPs who criticised his bonuses: “There was a period of remorse and apology for banks and I think that period needs to be over.”

The 60-year-old Chelsea fan has spent most of his time at the Barclays helm batting away complaints from politicians and shareholders, who have been irritated that the highest-paid boss in the FTSE 100 has failed to buoy the bank’s share price alongside his own pay packet.

Since he took over from John Varley in January 2011 (having lost out on the top job to him in 2003), Barclays’ shares have slid from 272p to 167p.

But his combative manner aided the firm in its attempts to conquer the investment banking world. When he moved to Barclays in 1996, Diamond joined a fledgling investment banking arm that was struggling to emerge from the carcass of the BZW break-up.

He took over the division in 2002, and in a few years, after a hiring spree and reorganisation, was generating the bulk of Barclays’ profits.

So strong was the business that when Lehman Brothers was in its death throes in 2008, Diamond was bold enough to pay $1.75bn to take on the firm’s core businesses, after a febrile few weeks of horse-trading with the US authorities.

Diamond is said to have played “God Save The Queen” on the New York firm’s trading floor when the acquisition was announced.

His feelings about a different London institution, how his bank manipulated it, and who else might have known about it, will be laid bare in front of the Treasury select committee today.