Jes Staley is unlikely to be spending this weekend soaking up the autumn rays of sunshine aboard his luxury 91ft wenge wood yacht.
Instead, Staley will be preparing for the perhaps the toughest interviews of his life. The 58-year-old American investment banker is Barclays’ choice for its next chief executive, but Staley will have convince the Bank of England and City watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) that he’s the right the man for the job.
Following the 2008 banking meltdown, both the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority and the FCA have the right to veto bank chief’s appointments.
The last American to run Barclays, “casino banker” Bob Diamond, was forced to resign following a dressing down from then Bank of England governor Lord Mervyn King over Libor interest rate rigging.
Before Staley has even been officially confirmed by Barclays as its choice to replace Diamond’s successor, Antony Jenkins – who was sacked over the summer – politicians have lined up to call for further inquiries.
Mark Garnier, a Conservative member of the Treasury select committee, called for Staley and Barclays’ chairman, John McFarlane, to be hauled up before MPs to reassure them Staley’s appointment does not “represent a shift in direction back to a more aggressive style of banking”.
“He doesn’t strike me as the right person to take over a retail and commercial bank,” Garnier said. “This sends out all the wrong signals.”
Vince Cable, the former business secretary who was instrumental in the ousting of Diamond, said Staley’s appointment “only reinforces” the “very alien” disconnect between British banks and the needs of small businesses.
It’s not the first time Barclays has considered hiring Staley, who lives with his Brazilian wife, Deby, in an apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan and a mansion in Southampton, the Long Island playground of the Wall Street elite. The bank tapped up Staley, a Democrat who has held fundraisers at his plush apartment a stone’s throw from the Guggenheim museum, in 2012 to replace Diamond but backed away due to fears of the political reaction to the vast amount of cash it would have to shell out to buy him out of his JP Morgan contract.
That cost is now much reduced as Staley left JP Morgan in 2013 to join New York hedge fund BlueMountain Capital as managing partner. But he remains an investment banker at heart. He joined a forerunner of JP Morgan Chase straight from liberal Maine arts college Bowdoin in 1979, rising to become chief executive of its investment banking division.
Staley, who was christened James but has been affectionately called Jes – not Jim – from childhood, was widely tipped as frontrunner to succeed Jamie Dimon as CEO of JP Morgan.
Dimon describe Staley as having “impeccable character and integrity”. Staley is said to have left JP Morgan after getting bored with waiting for Dimon, who has been CEO since 2005, to leave and concerns that the board might want younger blood. Dimon and Staley were both born in 1956.
The banker was born in Boston, and remains an avid Red Sox fan, but moved cities every two years for most of this childhood because of his dad’s job at Procter & Gamble. Friends describe Staley as not your typical brash, boastful investment banker but a sensitive, reflective and respectful soul who concentrates on building strong teams around him rather than bullying subordinates.
It has not always been so, according to his younger brother Peter who followed him in joining JP Morgan straight from college. Peter was shocked by his brother’s attitude towards minorities when they overlapped at the bank three decades ago. “He used homophobic language,” Peter, who was then a bond trader, told the Guardian. “He was just parroting the language of Wall Street – God knows I was hearing it every day on the trading floor.”
Peter said he was “very, very frightened” about coming out to Jes as both gay and HIV-positive at the height of the Aids crisis in 1985. “Back then it was pretty much a death sentence,” Peter, who is now an LGBT and HIV/Aids activist, said. “I was very afraid to tell him, I was coming out to the whole family and it had been my impression that he was one of the more homophobic members of my family.”
Peter was wrong to worry. “He became the most loving brother in the world to me,” he said. While other families, particularly those with young children, spurned HIV-positive relatives due to fears about the transmission of the virus, Jes brought Peter closer into his family. “I had heard so many stories over the years about people who were shunned, but I was invited to all of my nieces’ birthday parties,” said Peter, who is a primary figure in the Oscar-nominated Aids epidemic documentary How to Survive a Plague. “If there was any fear, they never showed it.”
Jes helped Peter by introducing him to the only other gay man he knew: his boss during a stint at JP Morgan in Brazil, whom Jes had previously mocked. The three of them decided it would be unwise for Peter to come out to the macho world of Wall Street, and he struggled on working before being forced to admit the truth when he became too sick to work.
Later, Peter told Jes just quite how afraid he had been to come out to his brother. “He was deeply ashamed, and realised he had been using the language without realising.”
Without telling his brother, Jes set out on a mission to change the homophobic culture of Wall Street. He helped build up JP Morgan Pride and convinced his superiors to become a major funder of LGBT rights groups, including promoting awareness of gay and lesbian people in schools, which was very controversial at the time. When the Human Rights Campaign introduced rankings of Fortune 500 companies on LGBT issues in 2002, JP Morgan scored 100%. Staley has also been credited with mentoring some of JP Morgan’s most powerful women executives.
Jes, Peter and their two other siblings are still close even as they enter their sixth decades, and the four of them recently got back from a siblings-only holiday in Maine. The extended family also holiday on Jes and Deby’s yacht, named Bequia after the Carribean island on which the couple spent their honeymoon.
Staley describes Bequia, the interior of which was designed by Deby, who runs an interior design firm, as “not a big yacht, but it is a big boat”. The company that helped the couple design it said: “They wanted not ostentation but ‘a spirit of home’.”
While the yacht was designed primarily for relaxed cruising, Staley has sailed her across the Atlantic to complete one of his “bucket list” life goals. Bequia and Staley also have race pedigree, as she won the Loro Piana Superyacht regatta in Porto Cervo, Sardinia, in 2013. As he collected the trophy, Staley shared his racing secret with the crowd: everyone on board must have at least one beer before the end of the race.
This article was written by Rupert Neate in New York, for theguardian.com on Friday 16th October 2015 17.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010