What to make of the recent mea culpa from Martin Taylor, the former CEO of Barclays? The Financial Times published his opinion piece, provocatively entitled “I Too Fell for the Diamond Myth,” in which he describes his time as CEO of Barclays during the late 1990s. Back then, Bob Diamond was running Barclays Capital, the investment banking arm, and reported to Taylor. Judging from the article, we can safely assume they don’t exchange holiday cards.
Taylor gives an insider’s view of boardroom dysfunction and a deliberate effort by traders within Barclays Capital to work around trading limits. The traders exposed the firm to massive risks by window dressing and reclassifying bets to get them past agreed internal controls. This was the late ’90s, after all.
Russia subsequently defaulted, and the markets went into freefall. Describing Barclays’ experience as “worse than most,” Taylor says the “failure to respect the internal control system” precipitated the fire sale of key assets. Traders were dismissed, and Diamond maintained that he had known nothing. Diamond offered to resign, but Taylor, concluding that the business was still in its infancy, said his direct report should stay. Taylor concludes by saying, “I deserve blame for being among the first to succumb to the myth of Diamond’s indispensability.” Ouch!
The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Martin Taylor. After more than a decade, he has come clean with some insight. Trouble is, we’re still missing some basic information.
The PR Takeaway: Personal reflection wins people over, but ignoring key questions undoes the gain. If Bob Diamond wasn’t asked to leave, was he at least given a zero bonus for the year? Was anything else done to send home the message that the CEO running the business had bottom line responsibility? Without a full explanation, it’s hard to get past the sneaking suspicion that Taylor’s mea culpa might have been more of an effort to rewrite history than a more profound and insightful contribution.
Is Taylor’s article an explanation, or an excuse? Give us your PR Verdict!