Last time someone flexed with Jes Staley, someone ended up regretting it. That someone was Jes Staley, who, in response to an anonymous letter submitted to Barclays' whistleblower line, launched an ill-advised and ultimately fruitless vigilante crusade to uncover the culprit. The authorities didn't take so kindly to the affair, and Staley eventually had to apologize to shareholders for targeting the whistleblower (who might not have even worked for the bank in the first place).
Now there's another antagonist in the picture. On Wednesday, after a contentious shareholder meeting, Staley received an email from one firstname.lastname@example.org, an address that is notable for including Barclays chairman John McFarlane's name and place of work before the at-gmail-dot-com part. The subject line – “The fool doth think he is wise” – referred to Michael Mason-Mahon, a shareholder who'd urged Staley to quit. The email read:
Mason-Mahon is as brusque as he is ill informed.
However I do feel we’ve ceased the rally for you [sic] head today.
Surely the fickleminded nature of the angry few will help tie up any loose ends.
You owe me a large Scotch.
Sent from my iPhone
Staley, miraculously, replied:
You are a unique man, Mr McFarlane.
You came to my defense today with a courage not seen in many people. How do I thank you?
You have a sense of what is right, and you have a sense of theatre. You mix humor with grit.
Thank you John. Never underestimate my recognition of your support. And my respect for your guile.
And some day I want to see an ad lib guitar run. You have all the fearlessness of Clapton.
At this point, one might ask whether Staley really believed email@example.com to be the same John McFarlane who signs his checks, or if the executive was actually playing a subtle long game intended to beat the imposter at his own game. Six subsequent emails suggest it's the former. Staley ended the chat with, “Thanks for sharing the foxhole.” After that, the prankster forwarded the exchange to the Financial Times, where you should go right now to read the entire correspondence (the crowning achievement: an original poem whose first lines spell the word WHISTLEBLOWER).
This may be another stinging embarrassment for Jes Staley, but at least we have an explanation for the steam that's rising over Canary Wharf.