Corporate Affairs: Leaderless Barclays plays a waiting game - Barclays may wait up to nine months to appoint a new head of communications. In the interim the role will be split among three senior executives How will the company fare?

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 bank.

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

bank.



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

months.



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

takeover.



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

affairs.



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

months



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in