News last week that Liz Wade was to leave her post as head of
Barclays’ group communications came as no surprise to those close to the
It is not uncommon, particularly in the world of politics, for the
fortunes of spokesmen to follow those of their masters.
Examples in business are less common, but there are precedents, such as
the case of Ian McIntyre, who left ICI soon after the departure of its
charismatic chairman John Harvey-Jones was announced in 1987. Spokesmen
who are good at their job inevitably become closely associated with
those they speak for.
Martin Taylor, who left his post as chief executive of Barclays very
suddenly last November, started his career as a journalist on the
Financial Times and, perhaps as a result of this training, was
particularly attuned to the importance of communications.
Wade’s promotion last July to the group’s executive committee, which
currently numbers eight, was a testament to the degree to which Taylor
valued her advice. Barclays’ acting media relations head Julie-Anne Kaye
says: ’A position on the executive committee is a recognition of having
been good at what you do. It is not an automatic right.’
But Wade’s departure, at the end of this month, will come at a
particularly awkward time for the bank. Barclays was forced to sell a
chunk of its investment banking arm BZW in 1997, and in 1998 the bank
made a pounds 250 million loss in Russia. Aside from its business
troubles, the group has no chief executive and is likely to remain
without one for some time. Barclays is understandably reluctant to rush
into an appointment.
According to some reports the search could take up to six or nine
Although Sir Peter Middleton, who will replace Andrew Buxton as chairman
once a successor is found, is acting as caretaker, analysts say that
without a permanent chief executive Barclays is an obvious target for
Despite this risk, the bank has decided not to replace Wade until
Taylor’s successor is appointed. Instead, her job, covering media
relations, investor relations, internal communications, public affairs
and community affairs, has been split between three senior members of
the communications team.
Investor relations head Ian Roundell will report to the group finance
director. Leigh Bruce has taken over as group communications director
and will handle media relations, internal communications and public
Sally Shire, formerly brand management head, is now corporate affairs
director and will look after the brand programme, community and social
affairs, and the chairman’s office. She reports to Bruce, the chairman
and Middleton as appropriate. Wade’s executive committee seat has not
been taken by any of the three successors.
Philip Dewhurst, president of the IPR, believes the division of
responsibility cannot be a long-term solution: ’We would always
recommend that you have a very senior single point of contact within the
company covering all aspects of communications. The risk is that you
might get a fragmented approach, with conflicting advice. Big companies
are increasingly transparent; your internal messages have to be
co-ordinated with external and financial messages.’
Although the current structure is not ideal, Dewhurst says it is
probably the most practical until a new chief executive arrives. An
external candidate would be unlikely to take the leading communications
role unless they knew who they were going to work for.
And the bank is keen to give its new chief executive a say in the
structure of his PR team.
Nor is it a surprise that Wade’s investor relations responsibility will
not be inherited by Bruce. Wade’s predecessor, Kate Bowes, did not
oversee this area. Wade was head of investor relations at Barclays when
she was promoted to corporate communications director, and she has a
training in banking.
Bruce, whose role is arguably the most pivotal among the three, joined
the bank in 1997 as communications director for its rump investment
banking business. His progression into the upper echelons of the
communications team has been rapid. He was made Wade’s deputy last year,
but retains his investment banking responsibilities.
But while the search for a new chief executive continues, Wade’s
successors will have their work cut out ensuring that the bank’s
messages are co-ordinated. Not only is there no overall PR chief, but a
restructure of the bank finalised by Taylor last spring has created four
divisions, each with its own powerful communications director.
Responsible for over 200 staff working across the communications
disciplines and in advertising, they do not report to the group PR
function, but mostly to their own chief executives.
Bruce’s dual role, in the division and at group level, will facilitate
co-ordination, along with the weekly meeting of team heads, which brings
together around 12 of the bank’s most senior communicators.
The timing of Wade’s departure, although quite natural, has presented
the remaining PR heads with an unenviable challenge, but they have a
considerable resource of experience and talent to draw on in the coming