Venkat (C.S. Venkatakrishnan)

CEO, Barclays

12 March 2024

Venkat (C.S. Venkatakrishnan)


Pathways to CEO

Venkat (C.S. Venkatakrishnan)

Why did Barclays join 25x25?

I thought that this was a very important goal for us. I think it's important to have in the leadership of our largest companies more women. 25 felt like a good number. I think we're still around ten right now. So we have a way to go. It's a goal which allows you then to start thinking about the goals at the jobs that report into the CEO and start building from there.

It helps you focus the mind and it helps create a broader awareness of this issue and put an ambition into this issue. And that's why we joined. I think the community aspect is important. You've obviously got some of the leading names in corporate Britain signed up. It's a good way for us to compare notes. We are not all obliged to do the same thing. We can learn from each other. And I think the goal of 25x25 is similar. It's one thing we share. Our means and our approaches we can learn from. They don't have to be identical.

What are the aspects of the job that you have found the most challenging or rewarding?

I have found very rewarding the breadth of the job. You just end up covering and discussing a host of issues, the ability to play a broader role in developing people, not just senior management, but even junior people is really valuable. And I think the ability to shape an organization, especially large, complex ones, it's hard, but it's a very rewarding thing.

What I found the biggest challenges, ultimately, am I managing my time well? Am I being bold enough on certain things, or am I being too restrained? Do I spend enough time taking the organization along with me, or do I sort of chart the path ahead myself? And I think as I've been in this job longer, I've learned it's important to take people with you. I've learned that it's important not to overcommit yourself on time. And I've learned that it's good to be disciplined and focused on just the important issues.

Does the business environment at a company affect the experience they are looking for from a CEO?

I think it's very hard at any point to predict what the next seven years of a company are like. And I think any CEO job is a 5 to 10 year job. So it's a brave person who knows what skills will be required during those seven years. So if you find somebody who's got the right basic knowledge, the abilities and the temperament and resilience and the ability to lead, that's actually most important because they'll be adaptable.

Is Commercial and Investment banking becoming broader in the mix of skills it looks for in CEOs?

I think all of these areas are accepting a broader mix of skills. I think at the end what you're looking for is when they promote to senior management, what are the criteria they're using. The business experience wherever you start is important. But then it's the other things, as I said, the qualitative issues, including temperament and so on.

Then when you come to CEO, there's a further filtration. Most candidates for CEO have the basic technical knowledge to be in that job. A lot about it is fit. A lot about it is timing. What does the person bring that is relevant to the company at that point in time? And that is almost the most important question. And what is the direction and the type of leadership that person will provide?

Is your Pathway a traditional route in the Banking industry?

I definitely think it is more common going forward. And in fact, it has. So among my fellow CEOs, if I'm counting it right, Christian Sewing at Deutsche Bank was in compliance and risk and Robin Vince at BNY Mellon used to be chief risk officer in Goldman Sachs. So you're seeing more of that. And I think in the good old days in the Army, they would talk about line jobs and staff jobs. And I think it's the same here. People want to see senior management who have had an experience both in a revenue generating function and in a control function.

I think generally it is rare for a bank to appoint a CEO who has not had some experience in a revenue generation or a business leadership role. I think because at the end of the day that is a big part of the CEO's job, because you report quarterly earnings and you report the P&L. I think the biases you see on the path upwards to that is do you get equality of opportunity in some of these roles for people on the basis of gender, ethnic backgrounds and so on? It's getting much, much better, but you still have to make it happen.

What policies do Barclays have to increase the number of women in the pipeline for senior roles?

In Barclays, we've got three women on the executive committee and our head of internal audit is also a woman. In our leadership programs, we try to make sure that 50% of the people participating are women. Then, of course, we have more specialized mentorship and training programs for women.

Can you tell us about your personal journey?

It's somewhat unplanned and accidental, but I think most CEO’s find it that way.  I've been in finance for 30 years. Actually, 32 years. But I didn't start out in finance and I didn't start out wanting to be in finance. I did a Ph.D in a subject called Operations Research, which is basically applied mathematics. And I worked in a logistical consulting firm. I just got bored of it. And then I said, let me work in finance. And I started in the programming end and the mathematical end at JP Morgan in New York. And, you know, slowly I sort of won my way up the organization in programming in more quantitative research. I discovered early on that I liked management, and so I would raise my hand for management jobs. You know, this is a field where many people are very narrow and very deep, highly specialized, and sometimes very highly paid because of that.

But I started going on a management career, and over time I did different things. I was in the business side of things on asset management, then I was the business side of things in investment banking. I knew technology from my start. Then I ended up moving into risk management and I left JP Morgan after 22 years, came to Barclays about eight years ago into risk management.And then I went back to the business and ran a markets division and then became CEO. I think important in all of this is getting a breadth of experience and the ability to work in a large company, especially in finance.