The Natural

The Natural

How one high school football star, economics major, ex-IT manager, Red Sox fan, proponent of a "no-jerks" policy, and kids' baseball coach has risen to the top of international banking

By Gerry Boyle '78


 

It’s an obscure footnote in the story of Diamond’s ascent in the world of international finance. But besides documenting one of Diamond’s few flawed business decisions, it reveals a significant character trait.

The intent here is to consider who Bob Diamond is and just what has enabled him to rise to the top of an industry in which everyone is ambitious. Most are very smart. The vast majority are hard working to a fault. So, why Diamond?

Clue number one: “There was an immediate chemistry,” Viega said. ”I trusted him.”

He isn’t alone, as conversations with Diamond’s colleagues, family, and friends revealed the same sort of bonding. Many people consider Diamond their friend.

Photo courtesy of Barclays
Barclays President Robert Diamond '73, center, meets with colleagues in his office in Barclays Capital headquarters in the Canary Wharf section of London.  In the background are family photos and framed newspaper clippings proclaiming victories for teams in Diamond's hometown of Boston
Barclays President Robert Diamond '73, center, meets with colleagues in his office in Barclays Capital headquarters in the Canary Wharf section of London. In the background are family photos and framed newspaper clippings proclaiming victories for teams in Diamond's hometown of Boston

In Viega’s case, that trust led him to invite Diamond to teach in the UConn business school the year after he received his MBA. If the saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” applied here, Diamond would have remained an academic, an educator like his dad, Robert Diamond Sr.

The elder Diamond was a teacher and administrator in Massachusetts public schools, serving as superintendent in Concord, where his son and namesake went to school, and, at the end of his career, as principal of the junior-senior high school on Nantucket. Bob Jr. was the second of seven children, raised in a household overseen by his mother, Anne Diamond. Of the Diamond siblings, four have been or are teachers. A sister, Marita, works with autistic preschoolers. A brother, David, teaches in a small town in upstate New York. A brother, Richard, owns restaurants on Nantucket. A younger sister, Rue, went to school for nursing.

Rue Diamond describes her parents as “you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to kind of people” and “very positive people.” Her parents didn’t push any of their children into education or into anything else for that matter. They did, she said, make sure to teach certain values.

Rue Diamond said her mother, Anne, now 80, often talked about not understanding how anyone would discriminate against another person because of their sexual orientation. Concord, then as now, was an affluent Boston suburb, and not very diverse economically or racially. In the 1970s, court-ordered school desegregation saw students bused from Boston to outlying communities, and the Diamonds volunteered to be a host family for a bused student.
For Robert Diamond Sr., Martin Luther King was “a real hero,” Rue Diamond said.

When Bob Diamond Jr. talks about heroes, he points to his dad.

Diamond has said this in print and he said it again in an interview with Colby in his Canary Wharf office in London earlier this year. “My father always said, ‘Every day, you have to learn some and teach some.’ I’m a firm believer in that to this day. I learn every day, and I teach every day.”

His father, Diamond said, equipped him with a strong ethical code and the moral foundation that underlies it. That code applies to his professional life as well, he said. “No gray area. No fudging. We have to live by the rules.”

Though Robert Diamond Sr. passed away 25 years ago, his son continues to use his father as a sounding board. “I still can have a conversation with him when I’m facing a tough decision,” Diamond said.

And does he have those conversations?

“Every day,” he said.

The tough decisions Diamond considers these days have high stakes. As this story was being written, he and other Barclays executives, including Chief Executive Officer John Varley, were going all out to win the takeover battle for ABN Amro. A Royal Bank of Scotland offer was also on the table, but Diamond and his colleagues were arguing that Barclays recent strong earnings (most from Diamond’s record-breaking investment arm—Barclays Capital, Barclays Global Investors, and Barclays Wealth) made the Barclays’ offer more valuable over time.

“We went into this transaction expecting to be able to execute, and we are still quite confident that we can,” Diamond told an interviewer from CNBC in June.

This statement alone, picked up by the news wires and relayed around the world, was enough to trigger a bump in Barclays stock. When Diamond talks, to borrow a phrase, the world financial markets listen. Not bad for a self-described Boston boy (his office is filled with Red Sox and Celtics memorabilia) who began his post-MBA career working a third-shift tech job and who claims to have gone into the business world to give himself street cred with his MBA students.

The night-shift tech job was Diamond’s choice, as was a decision to jump from an administrative track at Morgan Stanley to the high-pressure trading floor. Now Diamond oversees, among other operations, a rapidly expanding investment banking operation, with more than 13,000 employees at Barclays Capital alone, more than double the number in 2003. Barclays, with more than 130,000 employees, draws talent from around the world, and its scope is increasingly global as world markets, once insular, meld into a complex, organic structure that is at once financial, economic, and political.

 
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