Sometimes, the key to achieving results is knowing when not to sprint.
Case in point: When a UK branch employee recently asked Barclays UK Retail Banking chief executive officer Deanna Oppenheimer if she'd be willing to participate in 31-story climb to benefit a children's charity, she agreed immediately. Upon learning on event day that the climb was a run, she asked if walking was allowed. "He said yes, and I started up," the CEO recalls. The branch employee made the run in four minutes, 15 seconds, "clearing four steps at a time." She finished half an hour later.
If finishing that climb speaks to determination and resolve, it also reflects an understanding of the importance of pacing. In Oppenheimer's time at the helm of Barclays UK retail banking operation, the unit has experienced steady growth. Pretax profit was up 10 percent from 2005 to 2006, another 8 percent in 2007, and 7 percent in 2008, becoming the largest contributor to Barclays Group's overall profits. Last year the UK retail business added 400,000 new current account clients, 900,0000 savings customers, and 62,000 mortgage customers.
The unit is growing, but Oppenheimer says it's doing so carefully. So far in 2009, there have been no overdue audit or control issues. Online fraud has declined with the implementation of free Internet security software. Costs have come down too. Underlying operations expenses fell 3 percent in 2008, after back office consolidation, process efficiencies, and other steps. An Oppenheimer-led remake of branches is 40 percent complete - building costs are down 30 percent, and efficiency has risen sharply, with check processing time down by 88 percent and the wait for a branch appointment cut by 75 percent.
Barclays UK retail banking has increased small business lending by 20 percent this year - a loan approval every minute - on top of a 15 percent jump last year.
Oppenheimer has managed through this period of economic uncertainty with a rigorous attention to detail. "We've been most actively contacting employees, customers and regulators, and making sure we have our process down to what really has to be done," she says. Oppenheimer is in weekly contact with regulators. She has also set up a colleague feedback line where all 30,000 UK retail employees can call her and leave a message directly. And she created an expansive program to gauge customers' needs when the crisis intensified last year. As part of that initiative, 250,000 customers are called each month to welcome them to Barclays and ask for feedback. A customer review team is also reaching out to customers showing early signs of financial distress.
"The great thing about Barclays is our employees," Oppenheimer says. "In ten years I have never seen our employee engagement scores so high. They've been working harder and longer, and helping in the community." Community involvement remains a priority for Oppenheimer. "There really are a lot of charitable programs at Barclays, and I actively support them - it's so important to give back."
Antony Jenkins, CEO of Barclaycard, describes Oppenheimer as more than a deeply experienced retail banker. "I also think she's a great leader, with the ability to inspire her colleagues." he says. "And Deanna provides a terrific sounding board for the ideas of her peers."