3 Jul 2012

Bob Diamond: the rise and fall of a risk taker

As Bob Diamond resigns as chief executive of Barclays, Channel 4 News charts the career of a top financier who once famously said that the “period of remorse” for banks was over.

Following Fred Goodwin’s departure from RBS, another “master of the universe” – this time time an American – has fallen on his sword.

He had been in charge of Barclays Capital, the bank’s investment arm, when staff tried to manipulate inter-bank lending rates, but unlike Mr Goodwin, he did not have a knighthood to lose.

Instead, he has lost his job, another scalp for those who view modern banking as an industry that wields too much power but shirks its responsibilities.

Bob Diamond will always be associated with the Libor scandal, even though he denies being aware of what was going on at the time. But there is more to him than that.

In 2007, he lost out to an RBS-led consortium in the pursuit of the Dutch bank ABN AMRO. At the time, Mr Diamond must have been licking his wounds. But the takeover proved disastrous for RBS, leading to its near collapse.

A lucky escape for the former Barclays chief executive, whose earnings have caused outrage. He is reported to have earned more than £20m in 2011 from a combination of salary, bonus and share options.


Former Labour cabinet minister Lord (Peter) Mandelson, who famously said in 1998 that he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, described Mr Diamond 12 years later as the “unacceptable face of banking” because of his huge earnings.

How times change. But in 2010, Lord Mandelson was speaking after the great banking crisis of 2008, when RBS and Lloyds had to be bailed out by the taxpayer.

Barclays, which chose to prop up its financial position at the time by selling shares to Abu Dhabi and Qatar, refused aid from the government.

This strengthened Bob Diamond’s position when he appeared in front of MPs on the Treasury select committee in 2011. What he said did not enhance his reputation: telling his questioners that the banks’ “period of remorse” was over.


It was a far cry from his heyday during the financial crisis, when Barclays stepped in to rescue Lehman Brothers.

Several months after his appearance at the Treasury committee, Mr Diamond gave an interview to the Times in which he criticised “jerks”, saying that bankers who ostentatiously ordered expensive wine in restaurants breached his no-jerks rule.

Keen to push his populist credentials, he also said: “I don’t think niceness is ever a sign of weakness.” With his exit from Barclays, is this a case of No More Mr Nice Guy?

Lydia Prieg, a researcher at the New Economics Foundation and a former trader at Goldman Sachs investment bank, told Channel 4 News: "When Bob Diamond was at the Treasury select committee and said the era of remorse was over and Barclays didn't take money from the government , it was an indication of a general perception in the industry that they haven't done anything wrong.

"His attitudes are typical of the industry as a whole. It's untenable because as chief executive you're responsible for the culture of your company." But Ms Prieg said Mr Diamond was well regarded in banking circles. "He is held in high esteem within banking. Everyone thought he knew what he was doing."

Ms Prieg, who joined Goldman Sachs from university, said she had been one of many graduates who had drifted into banking and accountancy at big companies on the universities "milk round" because they were "people who don't know what they want to do".

Once there, she said "you concentrate on a narrow area and are not encouraged to take a step back and look at what the whole organisation is doing".

Ms Prieg said big salaries and bonuses were a motivation for many recruits. "We do unfortunately have a myopic view that income is a good reflection of the success you have made of your life. Even if you unhappy, you still feel you need to earn vast sums."