There has been no bedding-in period for Bryan Sanderson, who took over as chairman of Northern Rock almost a month ago. The 67-year-old former BP director has been thrown straight into the politically charged race to salvage something from the fiasco that has rocked the UK's reputation for financial services and left the Government with a multi-billion pound headache.
After taking the Jubilee line from his Hampstead home, Mr Sanderson arrives at the Fleet Street offices of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Northern Rock's lawyers, for a pre-meeting of key bank staff ahead of a three-hour session with the Tripartite Authorities (the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority). As well as Adam Applegarth, the embattled chief executive, the team comprises non-executive directors Sir Ian Gibson and Michael Queen.
On arriving at Northern Rock, Mr Sanderson found a traditional building society whose frantic growth since becoming a bank 10 years ago had not prepared it for its current predicament. The bank has borrowed about £20bn from the Treasury and the Bank of England and is under pressure from the Government to find a buyer or some other solution by 17 February.
Mr Sanderson says: "The best thing I can do is to put a good process in place. This is public money we are dealing with and we have to be seen to conducting an open and transparent process and to be considering every possible option."
Yesterday was the loose deadline for initial proposals from bidders, who have been asked to submit any credible offer for all or part of the business. Mr Sanderson says he hopes there will be a substantial number and expects some to arrive after the deadline. He says this is just the first stage of a process that will see Northern Rock trying to bring together those suitors whose bids are complementary.
Representatives from the Tripartite Authorities arrive at Freshfields. With a host of investment bankers, lawyers and accountants also present, there are about 30 people. The meetings take place every week or two and this is the first one that Mr Sanderson has chaired. Items discussed include how Northern Rock is managing its existing business and the progress made on the sales prospectus that was sent out to potential bidders. He is pleased that it was a "high-quality" session with "no ego trips".
Mr Sanderson accepts that there will be friction between the various parties involved in clearing up the mess created by the Northern Rock crisis but says he has secured agreement about the process.
"You have to have alignment," he says. "We will disagree about priorities given that the priority of the Northern Rock board has to be shareholders."
Shareholders are well down the authorities' list of concerns. But Mr Sanderson points out that about a quarter of the Rock's shares are owned by individuals, many of whom are customers in its North-east heartland who received stock when the building society demutualised in 1997. "When I am in the North-east, ordinary people tap me on the shoulder and say, 'Good luck. My mum has got shares in Northern Rock.'"
Mr Sanderson, who grew up in Sunderland, says he visits the North-east each week to see staff, the Northern Rock Foundation and others with an interest in Northern Rock. He either stays at the Hilton in Newcastle or at the Marriott in Seaburn, near Sunderland. "I stay there because I used to go there when I was a kid. It has a beautiful beach and I can look out at a lighthouse where my grandfather used to be a lighthouse keeper."
Mr Sanderson left the North-east when he was 18 and says that securing the future of the region's business icon requires him to remain in London most of the time. "This is where the Tripartite Authorities are and where most of the institutional shareholders are."
Mr Sanderson goes to the House of Lords for a lunch engagement hosted by Sir Peter Walters, the former BP chairman who recruited him into the oil giant 43 years ago. The lunch is held by LEK Consulting, on whose advisory board Sir Peter sits. Mr Sanderson gives a talk and takes questions about doing business in China, where he helped BP start its operations and where he visited regularly as chairman of Standard Chartered, the Asia-focused bank.
Non-executive chairmen usually work about three days a week, but Mr Sanderson says the job is all consuming. "I have told people they must assume I'm ill or on extended leave until March. I have to do this full time".
Back at his office at Brook Street, in London's Mayfair, he catches up on some paperwork with his secretary, Jackie, before giving an interview for a survey of captains of industry.
Sessions with Northern Rock investors, both face-to-face and on the phone. "It is a serious business there. They are concerned that shareholders get proper priority against other creditors and they are concerned about the volatility of the share price. All I can do is tell them what we are doing. We are trying to make the best out of the situation, we are bringing the best people in, and we are well motivated.
Mr Sanderson says that with three months until the company has to report to the Government there is still hope for shareholders, who have seen their investment lose almost 90 per cent of its value this year. Northern Rock has "a good set of assets... and I still think that will come through in the end, though I don't know".
Mr Sanderson interviews two candidates for non-executive directorships at Northern Rock ahead of yesterday's board overhaul. He wants to add board members with the right experience to help guide the bank through the choppy waters ahead. "It is incredibly time-consuming and inevitably it will be challenged. There will be people who think they could have got a better deal than they have. We have to find a way that leaves everyone a bit unhappy."
He leaves the office and returns to Hampstead. Mr Sanderson's wife, Sirkka, is in Sweden this week and so he takes his daughter, Christina, for an Italian meal. Once he is back at the house he goes through some papers before heading to bed before another day trying to salvage something from the wreckage of the Rock. "The job is challenging because it is so important to get it right and there is so little time."
Name: Bryan Kaye Sanderson
Educated: London School of Economics (BSc Economics)
Career: Joined BP in 1964, rising to head BP Chemicals and join the main board before retiring in 2000; Chairman of Learning & Skills Council 2000-2004; Non-executive director of Six Continents and Mitchells & Butler 2001-2003;
Family: Married to Sirkka; one son, Peter, and one daughter, Christina.