Barclays Exec Bonuses: When the Sh*t Hits the Fan


Shit hits fan: Image by themillersofliverpool via Flickr

It’s not often that I get tracked down by a reporter; today was an exception.

The UK press is in an uproar over the news that the top five managers at Barclays were paid £110m in bonuses (about US$178M). One enterprising reporter, Tom Leonard from the UK Daily Mail, tracked me down, knowing that I had worked with Barclays Capital CEO Rich Ricci when he was the COO at San Francisco headquartered Barclays Global Investors.

Tom was polite, but the angle appeared to me – as a non-journalist – pretty clear; what’s the dark, damning side of Rich Ricci?

I’ve written before (which is likely how I was surfaced by the reporter) on my work with Rich. The approach that I remembered when talking to the reporter was given to me by Tom Taggart, now SVP and head of Corporate Communications at Union Bank when Tom and I worked together – with Rich – at Barclays Global Investors.

Tom’s “Communications 101” course for non-communications people like me is masterful, simple and effective; what are the four (or so) key points you want to make and keep framing your answers to any questions with those talking points in mind.

Why? People get misquoted, and when they get off script they get quoted correctly and then grouse that they got misquoted.

What were my talking points about Rich to the reporter?

  • Rich is smart, hardworking, and knows his business; in many ways Rich is an outstanding business exec.
  • He’s a “driver-driver.” These types of folks are critical if you want results, but like any team, you want a few driver-driver types – not a team full. Like any good driver-driver (Note: I led a senior tech leadership teaming session last week with one of Silicon Valley’s leading companies. The session had  two strong driver-driver types. True to form – lots of heat, lots of energy, and lots to manage.) The downside of these types; carnage if not managed effectively.
  • Rich is impatient, hard charging, and yet in my experience behaves appropriately. Never saw any bullying, belittling, or boorish behavior. Rich in my experience was candid, frank, and a breath of fresh air in a BGI organization that struggled with being overly polite, and passively aggressive. While Rich’s candor rankled some people, it was probably a good thing. He also had a decent sense of humor, and was not above self-deprecation which is a healthy thing in a senior exec.
  • Rich like most execs had his faults; Rich generally hired great talent but he had a blind spot for at least one scallywag who used Rich for air cover for as he followed Rich from unit to unit.
  • Last as I mentioned to the reporter, I’d enjoy working with Rich again. He’s a strong exec who gets good results.

Using these talking points – “shark’s cage” as Taggart would describe it – every question becomes an opportunity to enrich your answer and burnish the point you’re trying to make. It’s not in some respects so much unlike a job interview though you’ve got much more free reign in a job interview because you’re not likely to see a misquote splashed across a front page of a paper (or digital equivalent).

It can be hard. At several points Leonard slightly misstated what I had said to ask a question, or looked for the dark side of Rich’s background. Problem is, I never saw one. One example: “He bulled through people then?” which could be taken to confirm that he’s a bully (Rich is not). The shark cage approach let’s you reel the conversation back into what you said – and hopefully what is reported.

Whether the bonuses that were paid are appropriate is in my opinion up to the Barclays shareholders and public opinion in the United Kingdom. Compensation and benefit schemes vary around the world and Rich and the good folks at Barclays will be fine fending for themselves.

The point for you to remember though is that when the shit hits the fan, have your talking points and “shark cage” handy.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.