By Jill Treanor
Just as Jes Staley, the embattled boss of Barclays, might have hoped to lie low after a gruelling confrontation with shareholders he is now facing fresh scrutiny.
Email exchanges have emerged in which the American banker lavishes praise on the bank’s chairman, John McFarlane, and thanks him for his support at the annual general meeting on Wednesday.
But when Staley was responding to the emails by “John McFarlane” – sent under the subject line “the fool doth think he is wise” – he did not appear to realise they were being sent by a prankster who has since made them public.
Staley is gushing in his praise for McFarlane, who was instrumental in hiring the American in 2015, as a “unique man”.
“You have a sense of what is right, and you have a sense of theatre. You mix humor with grit. Thank you John. Never underestimate my recognition of your support. And my respect for your guile,” Staley replied, to the email sent just after 8.45pm on Wednesday.
The email exchange shows Staley being told “you owe me a large Scotch” after the AGM, in which the chairman repeatedly defended the chief executive over the latter’s attempts to unmask a whistleblower who had been making allegations about the previous conduct of a new recruit in the US.
“Some day I want to see an ad lib guitar run. You have all the fearlessness of Clapton,” Staley said, referring to the guitarist Eric Clapton. McFarlane spent a large part of his career in Australia, where media dubbed him Johnny Hollywood in honour of his performing past and willingness to sing songs such as House of the Rising Sun at corporate and charity events.
The email exchange, which ends just before 11pm, also includes an acrostic poem penned by the prankster. The first letter of each line spells out “whistleblower”.
“Thanks for sharing the foxhole” is Staley’s reply.
Barclays declined to comment or give any clues to the reaction of Staley or McFarlane to the release of the email exchange. The prankster told the Financial Times he was in a battle with the bank over a customer issue and that he wanted to see “how Jes was relaxing after his AGM”.
The chief executive had apologised at the AGM about his attempts to identify a whistleblower who was apparently making allegations about Tim Main, who worked with Staley at JP Morgan and who was recruited to Barclays in a senior role last June.
“I feel it is important that I acknowledge to you – our shareholders – that I made a mistake in becoming involved in an issue which I should have left to the business to deal with,” Staley told shareholders. He may have now concluded that it was also a mistake to respond to the email from “John McFarlane”.