Something’s “fishy” in big banks . . .

Everyone has heard the old saying: “A fish rots from the head first!”  In the business world we have a similar expression:

“Organisations are shadows of their leaders; that’s the good news and the bad news!  If there is integrity in middle management, it comes from the top. If there is arrogance, deceit and manipulation of the rules down below, you can bet it also comes from the top.”

So let’s look at the recent, and by no means the first, debacle of financial irregularities by the big banks. Barclays was fined £290m ($450m) last week by the UK and US authorities after an investigation into claims that several banks manipulated the Libor rate at which they lend to each other. Basically, this is price-fixing for personal profit. Some other recent irregularities at our “too big to fail” banks are:

Then of course there is the recent massive loss by a “rogue” trader at J P Morgan Chase (about $5 Billion and counting).  Not to mention the mega-billions given to the banks for bailouts.

Now, we hear from the head of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King that the “culture of banking must change“!  Bob Diamond, CEO of Barclays, has apologised but refuses to resign.

Since when is an apology from the CEO a culture change?

Several years ago, when this whole banking mess started to be revealed to the public, (insiders always knew the culture inside big banks was corrupt and self-serving) I wrote an article entitled: Why Banks Should Focus on Culture, Now More Than Ever.  The issues today are even more pressing than before, and the tools for culture change are even more important.

And the major ingredient in successful culture change is a focus on leadership and internal procedures.  Only if both are upgraded can there be a sustainable shift in culture.

One of the tenants of navies the world over, and maritime law, is the ultimate responsibility of the captain of the ship.

“On the sea there is a tradition that with responsibility goes authority and accountability. Men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do.  And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order descends into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts.”  Wall Street Journal, Editorial 14 May, 1952.

As global citizens and taxpayers who are beyond tired of paying for the lack of leadership at the global big banks, we encourage the regulators, and Mervyn King, to do their duty and hold the leaders of the big banks fully accountable.  In my mind, an apology is not accountability!  Time to get some new, more responsible leadership who cast a more positive leadership shadow that others can follow.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Something’s “fishy” in big banks . . .

  1. mimijk says:

    Amen John…It angers me to think that unethical, ill-considered behavior is erased with an apology. Employment is still arguably at will – and poor performers – even at the top – need to go.


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