Jes Staley was the chief executive officer of Barclays, one of the world’s largest multinational investment banks and financial services companies, from 2015 to 2021. His tenure was marked by both successes and scandals, culminating in his dramatic exit from the company amidst an investigation by British regulators.


Jes Staley was born in 1956 in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Bowdoin College and started his career at Morgan Stanley in 1979. Staley spent over 30 years at the firm, rising to become the head of Asset Management before leaving in 2013. He then joined the hedge fund BlueMountain Capital Management for two years before being appointed as group chief executive of Barclays in 2015.

Staley came into Barclays with the mandate to overhaul the troubled bank after the Libor rate-rigging scandal. He set about cutting costs, exiting underperforming businesses, and trying to improve Barclays’ corporate culture. Under his leadership, the bank returned to profitability and stability. However, Staley’s time at Barclays was also marked by controversies related to his personal connections with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and an attempt to uncover a whistleblower. These ultimately led to Staley stepping down as CEO in 2021 at the behest of regulators.

Early Life and Career

James Edward Staley, known as Jes, was born on December 27, 1956 in Boston. He grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts as one of six children in an upper-middle-class family. Staley’s father ran an insurance company.

Staley attended Bowdoin College in Maine, graduating in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. While in college, Staley wrote his thesis on monetarism and considered an academic career before deciding to go into banking.

After college, Staley joined the corporate finance training program at Morgan Stanley in New York. He spent his entire 34-year career at the investment bank, starting as an associate and rising through the ranks to become President of Asset Management.

Staley managed and grew Morgan Stanley’s brokerage, asset management, and private wealth management businesses. He modernized technology, expanded internationally, and delivered strong results. Staley was widely considered a candidate to eventually succeed John Mack as CEO of Morgan Stanley before he was passed over in 2009.

In 2013, after being overlooked for the top job again following the retirement of James Gorman, Staley left Morgan Stanley. His departure was part of larger management changes at the firm to deal with new regulations imposed after the financial crisis.

Move to BlueMountain Capital

After leaving Morgan Stanley, Staley joined BlueMountain Capital Management in 2013 as managing partner. The hedge fund had been a winner from the 2008 financial crisis by betting against risky mortgage bonds.

Staley was tasked with transforming BlueMountain into a diversified global asset management firm. He focused on shifting the company’s strategy towards managing assets for insurers and pension plans, rather than just running its own capital.

Staley invested in improving technology and building out infrastructure to attract institutional clients. He also hired over 100 new employees to expand product offerings and entered new markets like managing collateralized loan obligations.

However, BlueMountain struggled with mediocre returns and difficulty attracting assets from outside investors during Staley’s two-year tenure. But his time at the company gave Staley exposure to hedge fund-style investing and risk management strategies which would later influence his leadership at Barclays.

Appointed CEO of Barclays

In June 2015, Staley was named group chief executive of Barclays, replacing Antony Jenkins who was ousted by the board over concerns about the pace of reform at the bank.

Barclays had been mired in crisis since the Libor rate-rigging scandal broke in 2012, which led to billions in fines and tarnished the bank’s reputation. Jenkins had stabilized the situation but clashed with the board over the urgency of restructuring the investment bank.

Staley was brought in with a mandate to accelerate cost-cutting and overhaul Barclays’ operations. His experience turning around Morgan Stanley’s asset management business made him an attractive external candidate.

As CEO, Staley reported to Barclays chairman John McFarlane who had spearheaded his hiring. His initial priorities were reducing costs, improving returns for shareholders, and dealing with underperforming units and ongoing regulatory issues.

Turnaround Efforts at Barclays

Staley acted swiftly upon assuming leadership of Barclays to reduce expenses and exit unprofitable businesses. He oversaw a major restructuring program called “Simplify Barclays” aimed at refocusing operations.


One of Staley’s first moves was to announce a plan in October 2015 to cut about 19,000 jobs within two years across retail, corporate, and investment banking divisions. He closed or reduced Barclays’ presence in several countries in Africa and Asia and reduced investment banking activity. Staley also consolidated office space and moved headquarters to cheaper locations.

By mid-2017, Barclays had nearly 20,000 fewer employees than in 2015. The cuts, along with other measures helped the bank achieve 1.7 billion pounds in annual cost savings within 18 months, beating targets.

Business Exits

Staley stripped down Barclays to focus on its core U.K. and U.S. markets. He oversaw the sale of Barclays’ European retail banking operations to funds managed by Anchorage Capital Group in 2016. The deal valued the divested units at about 840 million euros.

In early 2016, Barclays also agreed to sell its wealth and investment management business in Asia and the Middle East to a consortium led by Japan’s Orix Corporation for about $317 million. The deal excluded the wealth unit in India which Barclays retained.

These disposals exited peripheral operations to concentrate on Barclays’ wholesale and consumer businesses in core markets. Staley also reduced Barclays’ stake in its troubled African business in 2017 to 14.9%.

Improved Profitability

By refocusing Barclays and cutting costs, Staley delivered on his mandate to improve profitability. The bank’s pre-tax profits rose over 10% to 3.5 billion pounds in 2016, exceeding analyst expectations. Profit increased further to nearly 4 billion pounds in 2017, the highest since the financial crisis.

Barclays also saw a rise in dividends and share buybacks. Staley won praise from investors and the board for his turnaround efforts. However, the bank continued to face challenges like dealing with legacy conduct issues.

Addressing Scandals

Staley had to manage fallout from regulatory investigations and customer complaints related to scandals under previous management involving foreign exchange rate manipulation, mis-selling of PPI and interest rate hedging products.

He cooperated with authorities and worked to settle cases and put stronger controls in place. Staley set aside large provisions for litigation and conduct costs which weighed on profits but helped resolve lingering issues.

Barclays paid fines imposed by regulators for past failures. Staley himself though got embroiled in a scandal related to his involvement in trying to identify a whistleblower which drew scrutiny from authorities.

Changes in Leadership Team

Staley assembled his own management team at Barclays after taking over as CEO. He initially retained finance director Tushar Morzaria who had been appointed in 2013.

In 2016, Staley hired C.S. Venkatakrishnan from JPMorgan to take over as chief risk officer and Ashok Vaswani from Standard Chartered to become head of consumer banking. He also appointed Tim Throsby, formerly of JP Morgan, to lead the investment bank.

As part of his restructuring, Staley streamlined executive management committees. But his relations with some direct reports were strained, leading to the eventual departure of retail banking head Valerie Soranno Keating in 2017 and chief operating officer Paul Compton in 2019 amidst reported clashes over strategy.

Overhaul of Barclays’ Culture

Improving Barclays’ culture was a key priority for Staley following the rate-rigging and other scandals that damaged its reputation. He took several steps aimed at fostering accountability and ethical behavior.

Values and Conduct

Staley stressed the need to embed purpose and values across Barclays. He introduced a new code of conduct, refreshed the bank’s values framework, and mandated conduct training for all employees.

In 2016, Barclays launched its #makesitlessordinary social media campaign to rebuild trust. Staley sought to connect this push to a culture where people feel comfortable speaking up about issues rather than suppressing problems.


Staley decentralized accountability to business line leaders and reduced reliance on Group head office oversight committees. He increased the variable compensation component tied to achieving conduct and values goals.

Barclays also started linking bonuses more explicitly to not just revenue but also good customer outcomes and protecting the firm’s reputation. Staley personally took charge of oversight around conduct and reputational risk issues.

Conflicts of Interest

To better manage potential conflicts, Barclays instituted a ” purple zone” where both corporate and investment bank teams have joint responsibility for serving clients to ensure their needs are met appropriately.

Staley strengthened Chinese walls separating Barclays International’s consumer and investment bank businesses. He also banned former compliance staff from taking front-office roles to help reinforce internal controls.

Controversies Lead to Staley’s Downfall

Despite apparent successes turning Barclays around operationally, Staley’s tenure was mired in two major scandals that ultimately forced him out in 2021.

Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein

The first controversy involved Staley’s professional relationship with the late American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Barclays had been Epstein’s main bank.

Staley became acquainted with Epstein in 2000 when he was head of JP Morgan’s private bank and Epstein was a client. Their relationship continued even after Epstein’s 2008 conviction for soliciting prostitution.

As CEO of Barclays, Staley continued communicating with Epstein periodically giving advice on financial and legal issues until late 2015. These interactions drew scrutiny after Epstein’s 2019 arrest on sex trafficking charges prior to his jailhouse suicide.

Staley was transparent about knowing Epstein but downplayed their dealings. Regulators though admonished the ties given Epstein’s criminal history and the reputational risks to Barclays of the association.

Whistleblower Incident

More damaging was an incident in 2016-2017 when Staley tried to identify an anonymous whistleblower who had raised concerns about a senior employee hired by Barclays. His actions contravened rules and exposed Barclays to allegations of suppressing whistleblowing.

Staley had security attempt to track down the letters’ author, before being advised this was improper. Barclays formally reprimanded and fined Staley nearly 500,000 pounds over the matter in 2018. Regulators though took a stern view, considering it gross misconduct in a highly regulated sector.

Staley apologized and said he didn’t understand he was breaking rules, but the regulators were not satisfied. They continued investigating and negotiating over potential penalties before Staley eventually agreed to leave Barclays in late 2021.

Departure from Barclays

In November 2021, Staley stepped down from Barclays following pressure from U.K. regulators over the ongoing whistleblower investigation.

His exit was characterized as a resignation, but Staley acknowledged cooperating with regulators’ findings and a need for responsibly effecting succession. He continued to receive some deferred compensation post-departure.

Staley was replaced as CEO by C.S. Venkatakrishnan who had been head of global markets. Barclays said its strategy would remain consistent under the new leadership. Staley also stepped down from his other board roles at companies like BCC and JP Morgan.

Regulators ultimately fined Staley 900,000 pounds in 2022 over the whistleblower incident and banned him from senior roles at financial firms in the U.K. Staley said he regretted not meeting standards and accepted accountability for his actions.

Leadership Style and Legacy

Jes Staley brought stability to the troubled Barclays after years of scandals. He executed on his mandate to cut expenses, exit underperforming units, improve profitability and overhaul culture.

Data-Driven Decisive Leadership

Staley had an analytical, detail-oriented approach honed from years in investment banking. He focused on data-driven decisions to reshape Barclays into a leaner and more focused universal bank.

Staley also acted decisively on strategic priorities like cost cuts despite resistance internally. However, his assertive style reportedly alienated some executives who departed. And he sometimes appeared insensitive regarding reputational risks.

Lasting Changes at Barclays

While Staley left under a cloud of controversy, he achieved a turnaround of Barclays’ operations in his six years as CEO. He left a simplified bank concentrating on core strengths and with a stronger balance sheet.

Critics argue Staley relied too much on cutting expenses rather than boosting revenues. But Barclays was restored to profitability and stability, well-positioned to benefit as interest rates rise.

Staley also overhauled systems, strengthened conduct controls and embedded cultural change. But work remained to rebuild customer trust and employee motivation after the upheaval.


Jes Staley spearheaded a multi-year revamp of Barclays after the financial crisis tarnished its reputation. As CEO from 2015 to 2021, he executed extensive restructuring and cost cuts to stabilize the bank.

However, Staley’s tenure was marred by his problematic ties to Jeffrey Epstein and attempt to unmask a whistleblower. These missteps ultimately forced his exit under regulatory pressure despite successes improving Barclays’ finances and operations.

Staley left behind a leaner, more focused Barclays but one still facing challenges around controls, culture and strategy under new leadership. His rise and fall reflects both achievements and blind spots that leaders must recognize in highly regulated sectors like banking.

The story of Jes Staley shows how business turnarounds also require managing risks and exhibiting sound judgment, not just delivering financially. His experience offers important leadership lessons for CEOs in balancing multiple priorities even during difficult transformations.