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Portrait of Sir William Carruthers, General Manager of Barclays from 1918 – 1923

Sir William Carruthers, General Manager of Barclays from 1918 – 1923

Eighty nine years ago, Sir William Carruthers, General Manager of Barclays from 1918 – 1923, delivered a lecture entitled ‘Responsibility’ to the Cardiff Business Club.

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This week Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins followed in his footsteps, delivering a speech that drew some remarkable parallels. 

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William Carruthers
Responsibility differs in degree but not in essence. Each one is under some obligation, and to the extent to which he falls short the whole community must suffer.
Sir William Carruthers, Former General Manager of Barclays

On confidence in banking

The position of this country in the world today depends very largely upon confidence, and this confidence will continue so long as our guiding principle is a sense of responsibility for the maintenance of sound financial conditions. 

On foreign trade

We, as a nation, are in the long run dependent upon our capacity to trade abroad...

...I should like to see a much better organisation of British trade in foreign markets; a much more systematic training of foreign travellers, and a much greater readiness to consider the requirements or even prejudices of our customers overseas. 

Antony Jenkins
Achieving this collective sense of responsibility starts with having a common purpose and values that serve as a foundation for everything else that you want to achieve.
Anthony Jenkins, Group Chief Exectuive

Events of the recent past have been well documented…The financial sector, collectively, lost its way. We, and others, lost sight of our role in society and the people we exist to serve. Banks were too aggressive, too self-serving and too short-term focussed. But what I am interested in now is that we take responsibility for putting things right. 

The UK economy is deeply innovative, with much of that innovation coming from smaller businesses. But it is also extremely competitive. The domestic market will not be large enough to sustain continued growth in the size or number of businesses in any meaningful way. 

On unemployment, especially amongst young people 

The men who are now growing up, and who should be taking their places as essential units in our industrial life, are to a large extent those who, for four years were taken out of industry, and taken just at the time when they should have been receiving the training which is so invaluable for the development of efficiency. 

The economic loss from disengaged young people in Europe alone is in excess of $150 billion – more than 1% of GDP. Failure to support them not only impacts on our economic prosperity today, it threatens our wellbeing tomorrow.

For Barclays’ part, we realise that young people need help to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful, not just in business but in life. Earlier this year we launched an initiative called ‘Let’s go to Work’, inviting businesses to join us in creating new opportunities for young people.

We realise that government schemes for the direct relief of unemployment can at best be but palliatives. The great responsibility which rests upon us, both as individuals and as a nation, is to discover some means by which relief of unemployment may become less necessary because the volume of unemployment has diminished. 

For Barclays’ part, we realise that young people need help to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful, not just in business but in life. Earlier this year we launched an initiative called ‘Let’s go to Work’, inviting businesses to join us in creating new opportunities for young people. 

On capitalism 

Many of our industrial difficulties have arisen from the unsatisfactory conditions and violent fluctuations in prices which result from a faulty currency system. All our energies should, therefore, be directed to the restoration of conditions which will make for confidence among both producers and consumers.

With all its imperfections, the Gold Standard did provide a basis for confident trade, not only within the country itself, but also in foreign markets, and I do not myself believe that at the present stage of world development an effective alternative can be found.

In many ways (capitalism) has become a byword for the unacceptable in business. And if one thing was made clear by the excesses leading up to the financial crash, it is the destruction that can be caused if we have capitalism without a moral compass – lacking the control which can make it a force for good.

But we need it to work if we are to tackle the immense challenges before us. For while I accept capitalism is far from perfect, no one has yet found a better driver of prosperity or new opportunity.

And finally, a reminder of what we can be – once again – if banks act with integrity 

The banks cannot and certainly do not wish to avoid a very heavy responsibility. In a measure the financial reputation of the country is in their keeping…

That this country has succeeded in financing a war of such unprecedented dimensions, and that we have subsequently passed through so severe an industrial crisis, not only without a suspicion of financial collapse, but even with a reputation strengthened and enhanced in the eyes of the world, is no small achievement.

I stand here tonight, six years from the start of the financial crisis. Six years that have seen public trust and confidence in our industry sink to an all-time low.

And yet much has changed for the better. We are arguably in the middle of the most radical global transformation of banking regulation ever seen. Banks have:

  • safer balance sheets
  • better risk management
  • and improved governance

But we have to go much further than this if we are to restore public trust in our institution and our industry.

About Sir William Carruthers

Sir William started his banking career with the British Linen Bank before joining London and Provincial in 1881. In 1918, shortly after the Great War, he became Deputy General Manager and, on the merger with Barclays, he was appointed General Manager, a position he held until his retirement in 1923.

He was elected to the Board in 1920 and received his knighthood in 1922. An obituary of Sir William described him as a man who “set himself and demanded from others a high standard, but his attitude throughout was one of complete fairness.”

Download the 1924 lecture delivered by Sir William Carruthers (PDF, 1.4MB)Download the 1924 lecture delivered by Sir William Carruthers (PDF, 1.4MB) (new window) Download the 2013 speech given by Antony Jenkins (PDF 95KB)Download the 2013 speech given by Antony Jenkins (PDF 95KB) (new window)
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