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


 

Some may doubt the value of bringing the best and brightest to London, Varley said, but he is not among them.

“I want to ensure that London in general and Barclays in particular can attract the best people in the world to work with us on our strategy and vision over the course of the coming years. And in many senses, that’s epitomized by Bob.”

When he is not traveling, the epitome of the new iteration of the British investment banker works out of a glass-walled office on the second floor of the 10-story Barclays Capital building on Canary Wharf in London’s booming financial district. Through the windows, Diamond can see the trading floor, with its rows of cubicles, each staffed by a trader staring intently at a bank of computer screens. It is an increasingly global workforce, and Barclays recruiters now make stops in India, eastern Europe, Korea, and Singapore, among other places.

Photo courtesy of Barclays
Bob Diamond '73
Bob Diamond '73 gestures during a presentation to Barclays employees on a trading floor of Barclays Capital in London

Inside the office, the décor is startlingly American.

While there is English soccer memorabilia (Barclays sponsors the Premiere League, the top echelon of English football), there also is a framed page of the Boston Globe, published the day after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. A photo of Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek hugging pitcher Keith Foulke moments after the series was clinched. A cap signed by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Diamond still has a house on Nantucket, where his father finished his career in education and the family spends time every summer. The benefit? “It gives [the children] an anchor,” he said, adding with a grin, “And it allows them to grow up as devout Red Sox fans.”

It isn’t all Boston sports in Diamond’s office. There is a framed front page of the Colby Echo, the issue that bid farewell to former President William R. Cotter, Diamond’s friend. There are photos of Diamond, his wife Jennifer, their three children: Rob, Nell, and Charlie.

Though he now has dual citizenship—U.S. and UK— Diamond is unabashedly American. In fact, when Lawrence visited him in London recently, he was pleased to learn that Diamond hadn’t acquired an English accent, “like Madonna.”

“He sounds just like my old boy,” Lawrence said. “That shows a good bit of self-confidence.”

Still boyish well into his 50s, Diamond does appear confident, with a cheery, upbeat manner—the demeanor of someone who enjoys his job and his life. But accompanying the disarming grin is an intensity, a feeling that his mind is running at hyper speed.

In a half-hour conversation, Diamond talked about the increasingly global banking world, with economies evolving and with capital, once directed to developing nations by institutions like the World Bank, now flowing naturally. A Colby trustee, he talked about Colby’s strategic plan, which he admires for its clear priorities as articulated by President William D. “Bro” Adams. It is essential, he said, that the Diamond Building at Colby, for which his family’s foundation gave the naming gift, have a clear and significant impact on teaching at the College.

Diamond talked about his educator father, who never stopped learning, and about the value of a liberal arts education. The stack of books awaiting him on a side table included A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman, Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, Leadership by Rudy Giuliani, My Life In and Out of the Rough, by golfer John Daly, and Heroes All, by Ryder Cup golf legend Darren Clarke—among many others.

He stepped out to take a phone call, and when he returned he was asked about the rows of photos of baseball and soccer teams (“London Little League Champions, Undefeated 2002”), smiling kids in colorful uniforms, flanked by Coach Diamond.

“They’re all winners,” Diamond said. “Only a few won championships.”

How does he find time?

“The week ends Friday night,” Diamond said, gesturing toward the team pictures. “All of this takes place on Saturday and Sunday. You don’t have to let your career take over your life if you don’t want it to.”

Diamond had arranged a meeting for the writer later that week with Bill Mules, the head of the American School in London in St. John’s Wood, where daughter Nell was a senior and son Charlie was a sophomore. (Rob graduated from Princeton in the spring.) Mules gave a tour of the facilities, punctuating it with anecdotes about the Diamonds’ involvement in school life.

There was the time Diamond made sure to fly right back from an economic summit at Davos because he and Jennifer had volunteered to cook hotdogs at a school event. The time the Diamonds gave a school security officer two tickets to a Chelsea soccer game. The officer was amazed to find himself in the Barclays box.

“Bob will attend every performance of his children’s plays,” Mules said. “Not just once. He’ll be there every night.”

Sure enough, that night Diamond arrived at the Cockpit Theatre, in northwest London. The play: The Madwoman of Chaillot. Nell and Charlie Diamond had prominent roles in a tale of German-occupied Paris. Jennifer Diamond was backstage doing costumes.

That day, February 27, a sell-off in the Chinese stock market had triggered a domino effect in the UK and U.S. markets, prompting a flutter of the-sky-is-falling news reports. Standing in the theater’s lobby, Diamond seemed unconcerned, even exhilarated, saying he doesn’t mind when there’s a bit of a shakeup. “I like the competition.”

Then the lights blinked and the audience filed in, taking seats on benches in the small theater. The houselights were dimmed and the audience was quiet. Markets were forgotten for the moment as the stage spots came on, illuminating a Paris café. The actors came onstage, and the drama began. Diamond was no longer the high-flying international banker, but the dad.

First came an elbow, as Diamond leaned over and said, “That’s my girl.”

Then another elbow. “That’s my son,” he said.

In the darkness, Bob Diamond was beaming.

 
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