LONDON, April 5 (Reuters) - Andy Hornby was heralded as a “star successor” when he became the youngest boss of a British bank in July 2006, arriving as an outsider from retailing to liven up the stodgy world of banking.
But less than three years later HBOS needed rescuing by the British taxpayer and rival Lloyds, and Hornby is one of three people whom UK lawmakers are blaming in a scathing report released on Friday.
Hornby turned away from banking after HBOS’s collapse and is now CEO of bookmaker Coral, his second job running a firm owned by private equity and allowing him to keep a low profile.
It is a far cry from the fanfare when HBOS announced in early 2006 he would become CEO.
“Think about moving on when there’s a star successor alongside you ready to take over,” said James Crosby, his predecessor as HBOS CEO, when asked why he was making way.
Crosby said Hornby brought a retailer’s sense of pace and eye for detail, after entering banking in 1999 from supermarket chain Asda. He started as head of UK retail for Halifax, which merged with Bank of Scotland to form HBOS in 2001.
The mistake by Hornby, 39 when he took the reins, was to not change the strategy inherited from Crosby, UK politicians said.
The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (PCBS) report said Crosby was the “architect of the strategy that set the course for disaster”, Hornby proved unable or unwilling to change course, and Dennis Stevenson, chairman, presided over the bank’s board “from its birth to its death”.
Hornby declined to comment. Crosby and Stevenson could not be reached for comment.
“KNOWLEDGEABLE AND WELL BRIEFED”
Hornby’s return to corporate life was helped by his quick rejection of a payoff and a contrite appearance before lawmakers in early 2009 - unlike the anger directed at RBS CEO Fred Goodwin for his lucrative pension.
Educated at Oxford and Harvard, Hornby was clearly earmarked as a future CEO and the Bristol City soccer team fan was granted a multi-million pound share award in 2004 to stop him leaving to take over at retailer Boots. He became CEO of Alliance Boots, as it by then was known, before joining Coral.
Crosby has also kept a low profile. Now 57, he was chief executive of Halifax from 1999 and took the same role when HBOS was formed and was knighted by the Queen in 2006 for services to the financial sector.
“I was horrified and deeply upset by what happened,” Crosby told the PCBS in December. “I am apologising. I played a major part in building a business that subsequently failed.”
After leaving HBOS, Crosby advised former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and became deputy chairman of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), stepping down from that role in February 2009 after criticism of his part in HBOS’s collapse and that he ignored risk warnings.
He is currently a director of catering company Compass and an adviser for private equity firm Bridgepoint.
Stevenson, the son of an Edinburgh sheriff, was made a life peer in 1999 and sits in Britain’s upper chamber of parliament.
He was not the type of non-executive chairman “sailing above the battle, not concerned with the detailed day to day realities”, according to a letter he sent to the FSA in 2008.
“I am legally responsible for the business and with the modesty for which I am not famous regard myself as being knowledgeable and well briefed,” the Cambridge classics and economics graduate said in the letter of January that year.
A March 2008 letter to Callum McCarthy, chairman of the FSA, said his bank was setting out to be “boringly boring” for the next year or two.