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In Judgment of the Barclays CEO Who Tried to Unmask a Whistleblower

April 29, 2017

[Photo: Jes Staley, by Bloomberg News]


So, a CEO of a major global bank offers contrition for seeking to out a whistleblower. That, of course, would be Jes Staley of Barclays. His actions, which took place last June, and those of his firm are under investigation by several regulators - the U.K.'s Financial Conduct Authority, Bank of England's Prudential Regulation Authority, and New York State's Department of Financial Services. The investigations can lead to fines and even suspensions or bans for those who are found to have violated the laws.


IN THE NEWS.    The upcoming Barclays annual meeting – to be held on May 10 – is the only real reason that this issue is in today’s headlines. Yes, on that date, Barclays shareholders will vote on whether to retain or re-elect Mr. Staley as Chief Executive.


The ‘jury’s’ still out on his future, though it looks as the Mr. Staley will be staying on board- at least for another year. Most importantly, Mr. Staley has the unanimous backing of the bank’s board of directors. And, while the proxy advisory firm, ISS is supposedly wavering on its support of Mr. Staley, governance advisers Glass Lewis and PIRC both recommend his re-election. 


APPROPRIATE ACTIONS.    That said, the bank must decide on an appropriate punishment for Mr. Staley. Barclays directors are already planning to significantly reduce (eliminate?) Mr. Staley’s performance bonus. That would be a starting point, but does it really “send a meaningful message.” Perhaps the best way to determine what’s meaningful, is to consider what Mr. Staley did and how his actions impacted the bank.


Here’s our crack at it:


  • Mr. Staley violated laws.
  • Mr. Staley violated firm policy.
  • Mr. Staley has weakened the firm’s whistleblower protection program because Barclays employees are now weary that they and their jobs will be protected if, and when, they seek to report a perceived wrongdoing in the firm.
  • Mr. Staley abused the power of Chief Executive by demonstrating his belief that ‘might makes right’ - i.e., as CEO, his actions should be unemcumbered by others’ judgement or oversight.
  • Mr. Staley damaged his credibility by choosing to act unilaterally – i.e., without first seeking proper counseling.
  • Mr. Staley showed weakness as a CEO by allowing his actions to be driven by personally motives, rather than objective reasoning. 
  • Mr. Staley established himself as one who personally cannot be trusted, particularly with confidential information.


Given the above ‘laundry’ list, the argument for retaining Mr. Staley would be questionable, at best. Of course, we are outsiders and are simply expressing our perceptions. Mr. Staley appears to have been an able steward of the bank’s recovery plan, and that, to some extent, should matter. For example, the bank just reported a doubling of its Q1 pre-tax profits.


What are your thoughts?   


[For insights into Mr. Staley’s background, click on … Who Is Jes Staley?]