Barclays’ new chief is India-born CS Venkatakrishnan

Banking on Venkatakrishnan.
Banking on Venkatakrishnan.
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
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Barclays new CEO is CS Venkatakrishnan, an Indian-American and the first person of color to hold that position.

Venkatakrishnan, who was most recently Barclays’ co-president and head of global markets, is stepping in as CEO after Jes Staley resigned over his ties with late financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender who died by suicide in prison three years ago.

The decision came suddenly but it was not entirely out-of-the-blue. Even before the controversy, a succession plan for Staley was in the works. Last October, Bloomberg touted Venkatakrishnan, nicknamed “Venkat,” as one of two—and the more likely—contender for Staley’s position.

The board “identified Venkat as its preferred candidate for this role over a year ago, as a result of which he moved from the position of group chief risk officer to head of global markets,” London-headquartered Barclays noted in an announcement to the stock exchange. “The board has long been confident in Venkat’s capabilities to run the Barclays Group.”

CS Venkatakrishnan’s background

cs venkatakrishnan
Barclays’ new CEO.
Image: Barclays.

The 56-year-old who is now based in New York was born in Mysore, the southernmost city in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Even now, Venkatakrishnan enjoys a meal at an Indian restaurant that would “serve lunch on orange plastic trays,” Ken Abbott, Barclays’ chief risk officer for the Americas until 2018, told Bloomberg. “He thought that was very authentic.”

Most of his adult life has been spent in the US: He got his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1994, he joined New York-based banking giant JPMorgan Chase, where we worked for 22 years prior to joining Barclays in 2016.

Venkatakrishnan and Staley’s JPMorgan connection

Staley, who also spent two decades at JPMorgan and was Epstein’s private banker while at the American bank, worked alongside Venkatakrishnan in March 2012—a crucial moment in the latter’s career.

Back then, Venkatakrishnan, just weeks into a senior risk-management job, warned of $6.3 billion worth of losses from dubious trades in London—a concern that was kicked aside as “garbage” by the risk officer overseeing trades. Unfortunately for the big bank, he was on point: A rogue trader nicknamed the  “London Whale” indeed cost the bank $6.2 million in 2012.

Staley poached a handful of his former colleagues when he left for Barclays, the UK’s third largest bank, in 2015, and Venkatakrishnan was among his first hires. In Venkatakrishnan’s note to Barclays 84,000 employees after the leadership changed hands, he said Staley has been his “manager, mentor, and friend for years.” He plans to follow Staley’s strategy at the firm.

How much is Barclays paying Venkatakrishnan?

In his new role, Barclays is offering Venkatakrishnan a fixed pay of £2.7 million ($3.7 million), half in cash and half in Barclays shares. He will also be eligible for a bonus up to a maximum of 93% of his fixed pay and long term incentives up to 140% of fixed pay per year, as well as a cash payment in lieu of pension of 135,000 pounds a year. Staley’s pay was £2.4 million, plus an annual pension allowance of £120,000.

Can Venkatakrishnan change Wall Street for the better?

This new appointment may be good news not only for Barclays but Wall Street as a whole.

Equal parts consensus seeker and risk-taker, Venkatakrishnan is described as “the kind of low-key nice guy that would make a good CEO of an investment bank but is generally pushed aside by someone more bold and brash,” in an Oct. 18 Bloomberg article.

The executive, known for his “genial unflappability” and “fondness for emojis,” appears to care about diversity. He has made progress on promoting women, Bloomberg reported. Venkatakrishnan is also the executive sponsor for Embrace, the global multi-cultural network at Barclays. He leads the company’s “Race at Work Action Plan,” which has strived to improve diversity at the company where underrepresented minorities comprise just 5% and 21% of the staff in the UK and the US respectively.

In fact, Venkatakrishnan’s appointment itself is a big diversity win for the finance sector, which continue to struggle with diversifying senior leadership positions.