Thursday, August 31, 2006

BMO's ex-CEO Barrett to Retire from Barclays

Reuters, Steve Slater and Jane Merriman, 31 August 2006

Barclays Plc, Britain's third-biggest bank, has named veteran investment banker Marcus Agius as its new chairman, replacing Matthew Barrett who retires at the end of December after seven years at the helm.

Agius, currently chairman of investment bank Lazard's London business, had been tipped to take over from Barrett, 62 next month, who became Barclays chairman two years ago after arriving as chief executive in October 1999.

Barrett's going adds to several Barclays board departures in the past year. Talk in August that a change was likely stoked speculation Barclays may be a takeover target.

More fuel was added by consolidation among European banks and a report that Bank of America, linked to Barclays in the past, might be on the hunt for a "transformational" deal.

Agius, 60, will become a non-executive director at Barclays from September before taking over the top job in January when he leaves Lazard, the bank said on Thursday.

Agius began his investment banking career at Lazard almost 35 years ago.

An old-style merchant banker whose charm and discretion won him the trust of top corporate clients, Cambridge-educated Agius made his name working on a string of multimillion pound M&A deals for top UK clients, including Pearson, Halifax, British Land and ITV.

In 2001, he became chairman of the London arm of Lazard, which operated as a semi-autonomous unit alongside Lazard in France and New York.

That changed in 2002 when Wall Street dealmaker Bruce Wasserstein took control of Lazard and put the firm on course for a stock market flotation in New York, which took place last year. Since Wasserstein's arrival, the firm's powerbase and focus has shifted more towards New York.

Agius has been in the spotlight this summer as non-executive chairman of BAA, where he helped defend the airport operator in a bid battle that ultimately saw BAA sold to Spain's Ferrovial for about 10 billion pounds ($19 billion). He became a non-executive director of BAA in 1995.

He will stay on as chairman of Lazard in London until the end of the year.

A Bad Book, Karma, and a Ponytail

Chairman and chief executive of Bank of Montreal before joining Barclays, Irish-born Barrett has increasingly taken a back-seat role behind Chief Executive John Varley since he moved up to chairman two years ago.

But his seven years at Barclays have been eventful. He helped the bank shed a staid reputation, and profits have grown, hitting a record 3.7 billion pounds in the first half of 2006.

His purchases of Spain's Zaragozano and a majority stake in Absa in South Africa have been well received, but the 5.4 billion-pound deal for UK mortgage bank Woolwich six years ago has been widely criticised.

Growth in core UK retail banking has been sluggish in recent years, but this has been more than offset by accelerating growth at the Barclays Capital investment bank business, the fund management arm, and other international units.

Barrett has faced criticism from shareholders of one of the biggest salaries in UK banking, and will be remembered for comments three years ago saying he did not use credit cards as they were too expensive.

But analysts said he often won over critics with charm and forged a good relationship with the City.

He has said in the past his retirement plan was "to write a bad book, find my karma and grow a ponytail".

Agius will have a base salary of 750,000 pounds on becoming chairman but is not eligible to participate in bonus or long-term incentive schemes.