"For the past 50 years, Barclays has been my life"
Five decades ago, Brendan Jarvis started his first job in a local Barclays branch at the age of 16. Now, he reflects on finding his niche in real estate, meeting his wife at the bank – and learning that success is about embracing change.
When asked about the most memorable moment of his 50-year career at Barclays, Brendan Jarvis, Vice Chairman at the Corporate and Investment Bank, does not hesitate: “The day I met my wife, Camilla.”
He has a vivid memory of their first encounter in a Barclays branch: “less than a mile away from the house where I was born”. He was a 24-year-old branch supervisor when 19-year-old Camilla joined as a secretary. They bumped into each other at lunch, and she suggested they go for a walk. “We went to the park and sat on the bench, and after two weeks of doing that, she asked me to marry her. So, I said yes,” Brendan says fondly. “Four months later, we got married – and that was 42 years ago.”
The first day I walked into the office, I was so proud, so thrilled. Everyone was so nice to me and so pleased to see me – I didn’t look back.
Vice Chairman, Barclays Corporate and Investment Bank
Brendan’s life at Barclays had started a few years before that, at just 16. As a young teenager, he was drawn to what the bank had to offer – while it was the biggest building in his hometown in rural Essex, he felt it still “had a good family name”.
Above all, Brendan believed the bank could help him thrive professionally: “Looking back now, I was quite a forward-thinking 16-year-old because I really thought I should join something I could endure.” So, when he was offered a junior role, which primarily involved weeding the garden behind the branch, he accepted it at once. “Barclays gave me a break – they let me in,” he says. “It’s as simple as that.”
“You’ve got to be persistent and resilient”
Brendan donned a suit for the first day of work, although a manager quickly suggested that perhaps his outdoor work did not need such formal attire. “I used to deliberately go in my suit, get changed into my old clothes for work and change back into my suit to go home – so that my mother could see me as a hotshot banker,” he laughs.
But not everyone was supportive of Brendan’s place at the bank. “When I’d been at the bank a couple of months, I was doing the usual office junior roles – weeding the garden, burning the old cancelled cheques – when someone came up to me.
“He said, ‘You’re not very well qualified, are you? You’re 16, and you’ve got four O-levels. In a couple years’ time, people are going to be joining with A-levels, and after that, they’ll be joining with A-levels and a degree – and where will you be?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I’ll have five years’ experience. And if you’re telling me I need A-levels and a degree, I’ll get those too.’” Over the next few years, balancing work with his studies, that is exactly what he did.
It was a lesson in tenacity for young Brendan. “That guy did me a massive favour,” he says, “because he made me realise it’s about how you respond to the challenges – you’ve got to be persistent and resilient. And that set me up for success back in 1972.”
Finding a niche
It was not long before Brendan discovered what really made him tick at work. “I was at my best when I was with other people,” he says. His enthusiasm for building relationships evidently shone through, and after a few years, he was offered a promotion that would take him from his small town to the hustle and bustle of London.
“I remember my wife buying me a smart briefcase and a new coat,” he says. “I got on the train and felt like it was the first day of school.”
His nerves dissipated when he arrived at the new office. “The first day I walked in, I was so proud, so thrilled,” he reflects. “It was something I had always wanted to do. Everyone was so nice to me and so pleased to see me – I didn’t look back.”
I’ve been so lucky to have people who really believed in me and supported me through all the ups and downs.
Vice Chairman, Barclays Corporate and Investment Bank
As time went on, Brendan became more aware of the opportunities available at the bank. “I realised after a few years that Barclays was huge. You didn’t need to be a banker to work in the bank – I know it sounds daft, but you could do anything you wanted to do.” He found his niche in real estate: “It is a very social industry, and I took to that like a duck to water. It gave me that focus I was looking for.”
The rest was history: “For the past 50 years, Barclays has been my life.”
Challenges and milestones
No five-decade career will be without its difficulties. So, what are some of the challenges Brendan has come up against? For one: “The emergence of mobile phones.”
Brendan faced pushback when urging stakeholders to invest in innovations, such as cell phones, cellular networks, shopping centres and video game consoles. He recalls a person saying to him: “Do you think that people are going to use a handheld device and text each other when they can just talk on the phone? That is frivolous!”
He used challenges as fuel to propel himself forward. “I realised then that you’re either fully committed and you’ll come through for your client, or you shouldn’t be in the job. So, I decided if I’m going to go for something, I’m going to go for it.”
Brendan also came to understand the value of embracing change. Reflecting on the evolution he witnessed at home as he was growing up and in the economy, he says: “It was part of my internal mechanism for coping – to embrace that things will change and that I will as well.”
As he’s grown older, Brendan says, he’s gained the confidence and self-assurance to “keep pushing” for projects he is passionate about – and seeing them through. He adds that his resilience and sociable personality are vital, on a day-to-day basis, to his role in banking and real estate.
But what does ‘success’ mean to him personally? “You’ve got to feel good about yourself,” he says. “It’s coming home and knowing that you’ve done the best for your family, given your best and been rewarded for doing that.”
Support along the way
Through the other milestones that have accompanied him through his career – getting married, having children, overcoming health difficulties and having grandchildren – Brendan believes the key has been the support he received from his colleagues at Barclays. “I’ve been so lucky to have people who really believed in me and supported me through all the ups and downs. They’ve shared in my success and helped me when things weren’t so good. That has given me the freedom to express myself – knowing that people trust me,” he says.
“As you get a bit older and wiser, you realise that it's easy for somebody to pat you on the back if you've had a bit of luck and done something well, but not everything comes out the way that you want it to. At those times, it’s good to know you’ve got that support.”
He, in turn, has remained with the bank through the years. “We all have ups and downs in careers. In my darkest moments, I just went right back to when I started and thought: ‘They’ve been good to me, so I’ll be good to them.’”
That loyalty stems all the way back to the moment he was invited to launch his career in a small local branch. “I left school early and had no formal adult education,” he says. “So, without being too gushy, the Barclays family brought me up.”