When Rich Ricci entered a horse called Fatcatinthehat in the Cheltenham festival last month, he can't have expected it to make front page news on a tabloid.
The horse is one of a string owned by the multi-millionaire banker and its name is meant to be a joke. But the gag backfired on the Barclays executive, whose retirement from the scandal-hit bank was announced yesterday. Ricci's massive paycheques and flamboyant behaviour no longer struck the right chord after the bank was hit with a £290m fine for rigging Libor, and at a time when Britons were being forced to tighten their belt.
Unusually, the 49-year-old American was not in the parade ring to see Fatcatinthehat or another in the Ricci stable, Champagne Fever, which won the race on the opening day. "Client meetings" were cited for his absence from the course, where he has often been seen in his country attire of three-piece tweed suit, trilby and Jack Nicholson-style dark shades.
If his racing outfit is a parody of the traditional country gent's then his daily workwear could equally be seen as a pastiche of the archetypical City bigwig, from the colourful braces to the personally monogrammed shirts. While the timing of Ricci's retirement caught the City by surprise on Thursday, the odds on his survival at Barclays had been shortening ever since the bank appointed Antony Jenkins to replace Bob Diamond in the wake of the Libor-rigging scandal.
"I can't predict the future," Jenkins had said in February, when asked if Ricci would still be running the investment banking arm in a year's time. The strait-laced chief executive, who is trying to repair Barclays' battered reputations, later told the Guardian that he had a "good personal relationship" with Ricci, who in turn was telling friends that he had supported Jenkins' appointment to the top job.
But even so, things did not augur well for Ricci. Jenkins this week sat the American down to tell him of his plans to "streamline and improve" the way bank would be managed in future. Shareholders had been letting it be known that they thought Ricci would need to leave – not because he was in any way associated with the Libor scandal but just because he was too closely associated with the previous regime.
Ricci was by Diamond's side when he began the 14-year process of turning Barclays' defunct investment bank, BZW, into what was to become Barclays Capital. Ricci was in New York when Diamond failed to save the ailing US bank Lehman Brothers from bankruptcy in September 2008 – only to then take control of the Wall Street operations of the collapsed bank days later.
Along with Jerry del Missier, who also quit in the frenetic days after the Libor crisis, the trio drove fast-paced growth which generated racy returns. The review into the culture of Barclays by City lawyer Anthony Salz found that a long-term incentive plan paid £170m a year between 2002 and 2009 to 60 top investment bankers, whom he did not identify.
Since 2010, Ricci has been handed shares worth £70m or so from long-term plans dating back five years – on top of a salary of around £700,000 – and will have taken out millions more in preceding years. The 2011 Sunday Times Rich List estimated he had a £54m fortune.
The bank announced that Ricci had sold the entirety of the £17.6m shares he had been handed from past bonus schemes on the day of the budget last month, drawing accusations that the bank was attempting to bury bad news. That sale did not help to burnish the image of Ricci, who despite his portrayal as a brash City figure is neither a deal broker nor a trader but an administrator – more of a chief operating officer than a risk taker. He has been seen walking through Canary Wharf, china mug in hand, and buying a lottery ticket.
After Diamond and Del Missier quit, Ricci made efforts to stay. He began Project Mango, a scrutiny of the 54 business activities inside the investment bank that led to a pledge to shut down the structured capital markets tax avoidance unit. Just days after Jenkins was appointed to the helm of Barclays, at the end of August 2012, Ricci was making speeches alongside the new boss, pledging to lead the clean-up inside the bank – although he was not there in February when Jenkins made his set-piece presentation about how he intended to turn things around. Ricci refuses to tell even close colleagues many details about his background, other than to say he was educated in Nebraska at a Jesuit school and worked at a number of small US banks before joining what was then BZW in 1994.
His British wife Susannah is technically the owner of Fatcatinthehat – apparently taken from a newpaper headline – and the rest of the horses appear to be registered in her name. As well as Champagne Fever, she owns another horse called Blackstairmountain, which won almost £500,000 in prize money last week. The couple are reported to have put their seven-bedroom Kent home on the market for £1m – a sum that might seem modest to rivals, particularly in the light of his multimillion-pound rewards which to the astonishment of some could keep flowing for a few more years yet, despite his early retirement.
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image: © Dick Johnson