John Silvester Varley (b 1956), was educated at Downside School, at Oxford University, and at the London College of Law. Originally intending a legal career, he worked as a solicitor for two years before joining Barclays Merchant Bank in 1982, working in the team advising Barclays to set up its new investment banking operation, which became BZW in 1985. This led to a posting to Hong Kong as managing director of BZW (Asia), and culminated in his appointment as deputy chief executive of BZW’s equities division in 1991.
Having left Barclays briefly to work for a fund management firm, he returned in 1995, having been recruited by Martin Taylor as chairman of the Asset Management Division (BZW Asset Management). In 1996 he was appointed to the group executive committee and in 1998 was appointed as chief executive of the retail division of Barclays, being made a director later the same year. In 2000 he became chief finance officer for the group, following the major acquisition by Barclays of the former Woolwich building society in that year. At the start of 2004 John was appointed deputy chief executive in preparation for his succession to Matt Barrett as Chief Executive later that year.
John Varley is largely credited with steering Barclays through the most dangerous financial crisis to beset the UK’s financial system since the 1930s, and was a central figure in negotiating at the highest levels of government, and with regulators and fellow bankers, to avert the collapse of the clearing banks in 2008-2009. As a result, Barclays emerged as the only major British owned and based clearing bank to retain independence from government ownership, and was able to stabilise its share price and capital at sustainable levels, having completed major capital raising programmes, and selling one of its major businesses, Barclays Global Investors.
On the eve of the crisis in 2007 one of the largest takeover battles on the European banking scene, for the Dutch bank ABN Amro, ended with Barclays withdrawing its offer. Two major acquisitions were nevertheless completed under Mr Varley, potentially of long-term significance for Barclays. The first was a majority stake in ABSA, one of southern Africa’s largest banking groups, which enabled Barclays to re-enter South Africa properly for the first time since the apartheid era and to greatly expand its African operations; the second was the investment banking and capital markets businesses of Lehman Brothers in North America, at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. Also on the international front Barclays sold its long-standing business in the Caribbean. At home, Barclays maintained its historical record of technical innovation, for example by developing contactless payment cards and launching PINsentry - the first hand-held chip and PIN card reader for use in UK online banking.
John’s external appointments included president of the Employers' Forum on Disability, non-executive director of AstraZeneca, chairman of Business Action on Homelessness, and as a director of Ascot Racecourse. He is connected by marriage with one of the old Quaker banking families, the Peases.