Sunday, 16 January 2011

A Diamond performance

For those of you unfamiliar with Bob Diamond he is the incoming Chief Executive of Barclays, and current head of Barclays Corporate & Investment Banking and Wealth Management. Diamond was recently interviewed by the Treasury Select Committee as part of an inquiry into "Competition and Choice. Here's what happened:

For those of you too lazy and unmotivated to watch more than 2 hours of Select Committee investigation (shame on you!), here's a summary, he absolutely owned the room. He was cool, collected and never fluffed his lines. For a slightly more adult analysis Robert Peston is the place to go, he described the whole experience as "gripping theatre", which is entirely fair in my opinion.

I've watched plenty of these 'inquiries' and most of the time the guy being inquired upon is significantly less able. There's usually a wobble no matter how skilled the performer, or an ill considered "ah-hah" moment when they agree with an MP's point.

After watching this video I felt the need to try and codify what it is that stands out about Diamond's performance, in order to get a sense of what we can all learn:
  1. Don't Panic: Its silly to have to say it, but its true. All too often subjects in these settings get asked a question they dont like the sound of, or lose their thread, or simply lose the plot and they panic. Diamond never once suggests that he's intimidated or even impressed by his interrogators, I'm sure he even takes a breath before he answers some of the questions, giving himself the space he needs to stay calm and in control
  2. Don't answer a speech: All too often MPs (and comparable public figures) use their question time to give a speech, adding a question mark to the end and pretending as if its a good use of everyone's time. Diamond deals with these skillfully, without being rude, he steps back from the speech, picks the line to take which fits closest to something approaching the point and delivers it.
  3. Yes and no are never the right answer: At one point Diamond is asked if he is "grateful" to the British taxpayer for their help ensuring the Barclays is protected from the worst of the economic crisis. He refuses to answer with a yes or no, and instead says he is grateful to everyone who has helped. The problem with yes/no questions is they are setups for newspaper articles, this one would have been "Diamond 'grateful' to British taxpayers". By refusing to simplify the issue you avoid letting anyone else simplify it on your behalf later on.
  4. Don't apologise (if you didnt do anything wrong): This only works if you're actually not a bad person. If you're not, go wild. Diamond can reasonably claim not to be a bad guy, his bank didnt take a bailout, and there's no public ownership, so he's largely in the clear on that count. Barclays (like all banks when you get down to it) has done some bad things in the past, but Diamond isnt responsible for them, so when an MP lists off every bad thing (real or imagined) that Barclays has done Diamond doesnt miss a beat, he takes a breath, points out these are accusations not facts, and asks if there's a question. Thats class.
  5. Be right, and get someone else to be right with you: Theres no formula for this, you've got to have every bit of data relevant in any way in your head and be ready to deploy it at a moment's notice. Diamond also brough along Anthony Jenkins, head of Barclays retail, as his wing man. Although Anthony only answers a couple of questions, its clear he is there as a memory backup.
As a friend of mine commented a couple of nights ago, bankers are now hated more than lawyers. I think there's a case to be made that some of this ill feeling is deserved, but much of it isnt. For Diamond to stand up in such an environment and defend his bank and his staff so aggressively speaks to a level of confidence and control which few people have. Its an impressive bit of work, and well worth learning from.

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