The ancient British bank that breeds blue-chip chairmen

Schroders, founded in 1804, sold up to Citigroup in 2000, but its alumni keep popping up in the FTSE 100. Sean Farrell reports
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The Independent Online

What is it about Schroders?

The venerable investment bank sold up to Citigroup in 2000, but it continues to exert unusual influence on British corporate life through its powerful alumni network.

Tesco's announcement on Wednesday that Sir Richard Broadbent will be its next chairman means that five ex-Schroders bankers will chair FTSE 100 companies.

Sir Richard, who is already deputy chairman at Barclays, was also in demand for the chairman's job at Aviva.

He follows Gerry Grimstone at Standard Life, Alison Carnwath at Land Securities, Sir Win Bischoff at Lloyds Banking Group and Robert Swannell at Marks & Spencer into the grandest echelon of Britishcorporate life.

Their rise to the top of the plc tree is also unusual because it is a route taken by few investment bankers. Marcus Agius, Barclays' chairman and ex-Lazards, stands out as the other former deal-maker leading a blue-chip company.

Much of the explanation is down to timing and history.

Schroders, which dates back to 1804, was the last truly independent UK investment bank to sell itself to a bigger rival when Sir Win engineered the deal with Citi (leaving the asset management arm bearing the Schroders name).

While many Schroders bankers stayed on, including Sir Win and current Citi star David Wormsley, others chose to tap their contact books to make the switch into the mainstream business world.

After 10 years or so as non-executive directors, it is not surprising that they have now reached the top of the greasy pole.

But the climate for investment banking in the decade before Schroders was sold also provides clues to their success. Those were the years when the British merchant banks lost influence in a globalising world to bigger rivals from Germany, Switzerland and the US.

To survive, Schroders and others such as SG Warburg concentrated on solidifying relationships with domestically minded Britishcompanies.

Their bankers also built up strong relationships with the big UK asset managers such as Legal & General and Morley that dominated share registers at the time.

Peter Hahn, a former Citigroup corporate finance banker and now a lecturer at Cass Business School, says: "From the late 1980s onwards those banks lost their international clout to banks with bigger balance sheets and were forced to concentrate on UK companies that were less likely to need international advisers at the time. Now we see those relationships bearing fruit."

In an increasingly regulated world in which business and politics are interlinked, Schroders' history also provides particularly handy contacts.

Before 1990, Schroders and its rivals were able to feed off the huge wave of privatisations set in train by the Thatcher governments. Those deals helped to build networks covering ministers and mandarins that survive to this day.

Indeed, Sir Richard started his career at the Treasury before moving to Schroders, and then went back into public service to head Her Majesty's Customs & Excise for three years. And Mr Grimstone was Mrs Thatcher's privatisation guru at the Treasury before joining Schroders.

Connections, both in business and in politics, allied with the right balance of charm and toughness, are the qualities that have armed these former bankers to scale the heights of the corporate ladder.

And there may be more to come. David Challen, another ex-Schroders man, is the senior independent director at both the mining giant Anglo-American and the engineering group Smiths. If he wants it, a chairmanship is surely his when the right one comes up.

Mr Wormsley, who famously defeated Guy Hands' attempt to sue him over the Terra Firma boss's ill-fated takeover of EMI, also has the connections and personal polish to lead a top board.

But is this alluring brew of connections and gravitas the right recipe for a modern chairman? Sir David Walker's review of corporate governance in the wake of the financial crisis said boardrooms needed more experience that is specific to the company's business, particularly for banks.

Companies are also under pressure to get more women in the boardroom following Lord Davies's recent report. Notwithstanding Ms Carnwath's rise, the ex-Schroders people are cut from broadly similar cloth.

Dr Hahn at Cass says: "Looking at how boards are composed, is it more for their networks and ability to deal with institutions or their ability to understand the workings of the business? That's a debate we should be having because it's developed into an old boys' network."

On that basis, this ex-Schroders generation could be the last of their kind. But there are others like them waiting in the wings and the cocktail of influence, experience and gravitas they offer will always be a potent one.

Sir Richard Broadbent

Sir Richard joined Schroders in 1986 after 10 years at the Treasury and rose to be head of corporate finance before leaving in 1999. Spent three years heading HM Customs & Excise before joining Barclays in 2003 to launch his boardroom career. Has taken the heat over pay at Barclays and will chair Tesco from November.

Robert Swannell

Stayed on after Schroders’ sale to Citi and combined old school charm with dealmaking clout to advise Roman Abramovich on his purchase of Chelsea FC and Marks & Spencer on its defence against Sir Philip Green. Sealed the deal as M&S chairman last year before disaster struck at HMV which he chaired from 2008.

Gerry Grimstone

Like Sir Richard, a former Treasury high flier. Mr Grimstone oversaw most of the Thatcher government’s big privatisations before joining Schroders in 1986. Rose to be vice-chairman of global investment banking before leaving for a boardroom career in 1999. Joined Standard Life in 2003 and became chairman in 2007.

Sir Win Bischoff

The Anglo-German grandee joined J Henry Schroder & Co in 1966. The company was worth £30m when he took over in 1984 and 16 years later he sold the investment banking arm to Citi for £1.3bn. Briefly served as chairman and chief executive of Citi during the financial crisis before taking the helm at Lloyds Banking Group in 2009.

Alison Carnwath

Ms Carnwath was Schroders’ first female director before leaving in 1993. Finished her investment banking career at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette in 2000 and went on to become the most in-demand woman in British boardrooms. Famously gave her chief executive Francis Salway six months to pull his socks up at Land Securities.

David Wormsley

Citigroup’s chairman of UK investment banking keeps the Schroders flag flying at the US bank. After last year was dominated defending a court case over Terra Firma’s EMI deal, “The Worm” is back advising on Glencore’s massive IPO. Could follow former colleagues into corporate life but the low-profile banker may resist the limelight.