Edwin Fisher (1883-1947), known as ‘Tom’, was one of a remarkable family of siblings, including the historian H A L Fisher and Admiral Sir William Fisher. Like Frederick Goodenough, Edwin was an example of a meritocrat from outside the historic banking families, rising through the ranks to the chief executive position in Barclays.
Originally destined for a legal career, he joined Barclays in 1908 as assistant company secretary, succeeding to the secretaryship in 1911. Following war service, in 1920 he was appointed as a local director in the large Birmingham District, before returning to head office in 1925 as a general manager. This was now a typical pattern of preparation for men being groomed for possible elevation to the chair. Election to the main board followed in 1932, as vice-chairman, and in 1934 on Mr Goodenough’s death, as deputy chair.
In 1934 the board faced a difficult decision as to Goodenough’s successor, and postponed this by asking William Tuke to take the chair for a specified period of two years. They eventually decided to appoint Fisher in preference to Goodenough’s own son, William, on the understanding that the latter would in turn succeed him.
Fisher’s tenure as Chairman included the difficult period of war preparations, six long years of war itself, and then the challenge of post-war reconstruction. He is largely credited with the introduction of refresher courses for staff returning from active service, which led to the development of a permanent system of staff training.
Fisher’s management style was quite different from Goodenough’s autocratic methods, being more collegial and approachable, and showing a more human touch. He was genuinely well-liked throughout the company. He introduced the daily informal meeting of the chair and general managers, which became the basis for today’s executive committee as the principal management body of the group, and more work came to be conducted through committees. He was involved actively in many organizations, serving as President of the British Bankers' Association and as Chairman of the Committee of London Clearing Banks. He even joined the Home Guard as a private at the height of the war.
Edwin Fisher was a brother-in-law of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and was himself president of an active and flourishing Barclays Musical Society in the 1930s. He met a tragic end, suffering a seizure during a private interview with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, dying shortly afterwards in the London Clinic.
External appointments included life governor of Birmingham University, and membership of many different organisations including the Council of the Institute of Bankers, the Council of Bedford College for Women, the Sea-Fish Commission, the Tithe Redemption Commission, and the Export Council. He also served as High Sheriff for Kent.