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Business Analysis & Features

In The Spotlight: Stephen Hester, RBS

The career banker charged with putting RBS back in the hunt

Charged with running a bank that is 84 per cent owned by the taxpayer, Stephen Hester knows that anything he says has a political context.

So the Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive made it clear yesterday that he expects tax-payers to "get their money back" from the institution they have bailed out, whose trading is now improving, while also warning of the "unforeseen circumstances" of over-regulating the City.

Mr Hester is used to treading fine lines. He caused a political storm in December after he let it be known that RBS would pay big bonuses to key staff despite public hostility to such windfalls – and by warning that the board might have to quit if the Government prevented it from doing so.

In business terms, Mr Hester has won plaudits for calmly steering RBS back from the brink since he was brought in to lead the bank following the ousting of Sir Fred Goodwin in November 2008. Yesterday's first-quarter trading update suggests the journey is continuing, with the bank close to profitability during the first three months of the year.

Mr Hester has plenty of experience to draw on, having spent most of his adult life working for retail or investment banks. A high-flyer at Credit Suisse First Boston, Mr Hester became finance director of Abbey National in 2000, and was widely credited with turning the bank around. A stint as chief executive of British Land followed before the RBS rescue job began.

A keen horseman, Mr Hester is often pictured riding out with his local hunt. Having prevented RBS from going to the dogs, the mission now continues.