Chris Blackhurst: Scallops and Sellotape? How not to lead, by Fred the Shred

Midweek View: The Gogarburn HQ is a great monument to Mr Goodwin's vanity. The detail here is frightening, and laughable

Businesses are about people. In the end, they succeed or fail because of the human beings that run them. The numbers, the bit that gets the markets and media excited, is merely the outcome of the deeds of the chief executives and their colleagues.

It's a sort of mantra that has sustained me in business journalism. It's too easy to get carried away by the figures, without paying enough attention to what is going on inside the boss's head. Having interviewed and met numerous chairmen and CEOs down the years, I am still fascinated by their foibles – and where their behaviour might take the business.

Greed, avarice, lust, hubris – they and more are all there, and they're more important than any management consultant positioning paper or broker's report.

To demur, to say that process can prevail, he said with more than a hint of arrogance, is plain wrong. You only have to look at those firms that sink when the CEO baton is passed, to realise it's the quality of the person that matters.

That point is brought home again in Iain Martin's excellent new book, Making It Happen, about RBS and the banking crisis. When Fred Goodwin was in his pomp, I was invited to meet him. It was a Friday afternoon, at RBS's offices in the City, just before a long, bank-holiday weekend. Already, workers were gathering on the pavements outside the bars. As we sat at the top of the RBS building, he became visibly irritated by the sound of the clinking of glasses and laughter from below. He started pacing the room, looking down from the window, and asking: "What's wrong with this town, why does no one do any work?"

I recall the room was incredibly ordered. Everything in it was just so. The air-conditioning was uncomfortably cold. He was brittle and not especially friendly – odd, I remember thinking, because the invitation was his. He exuded impatience and annoyance. Quite why, I could not fathom. It was clear he did not do small talk; but then he did not seem that keen to discuss world, or industry, issues either.

In Mr Martin's book, Mr Goodwin is referred to by a former RBS executive as a "sociopath". He was a control freak but, fatally, that control was only reserved for items that, in the context of a massive international bank, were minor. So, he fretted about the use of Sellotape to stick up notices in RBS's high street branches – he hated the stuff, thinking it scruffy. Likewise, it infuriated him that the area around cash machines was so untidy, with customers chucking receipts and cigarette ends on the floor.

Similarly, he immersed himself in sessions to choose colours for advertising campaigns, office interiors, even the company's fleet of Mercedes S-Class (they had to be Pantone 281, the same as RBS's corporate blue). The corporate jet was registered G-RBSG (Royal Bank of Scotland Goodwin).

This is before we even get to the great monument to Mr Goodwin's vanity that is Gogarburn, the new RBS headquarters he had built outside Edinburgh. The detail here is frightening, and laughable. Gogarburn was to have a "scallop kitchen". When The Sunday Times wrote that, and other tales about Gogarburn, he threatened to withdraw all RBS advertising from the paper and its sister News International titles. Eventually, the row was settled with Mr Goodwin giving an interview to The Sunday Times in which the scallop kitchen was described as being not just for the preparation of scallops, but other seafood as well.

It's wonderful stuff, scary and funny at the same time. Tellingly, what there is not is the sense of anyone overseeing Mr Goodwin. Senior executives at the bank were full of stories about his rudeness (he once invited a group of journalists to the Chelsea Flower Show, never even said hello to us, and spent the evening with Merrill Lynch in its marquee nearby) and pettiness, but no one was standing up to him.

As for the board, reading Mr Martin's account it's hard to fathom what they did, exactly. The directors must have known that Mr Goodwin was something of a monster but did not appear concerned. They could dismiss his traits as inconsequential, if they were happy about the condition of the banking business underneath him. Crucially, though, he does not appear to have been put on the spot in this regard.

Behind RBS's understated exterior was a dictator. No one could manage him. Those who should have done chose not to. If anyone doubts that businesses are not about the people who run them, all they have to reprise is the shocking story of Fred Goodwin and RBS.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Life and Style
Customers look at the new iPhones on display at the launch of the new Apple iPhone 6 and iphone 6 plus at the Apple IFC store in Hong Kong
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Audit Manager Central Functions

To £85,000 + banking benefits: Saxton Leigh: You will be expected to carry out...

Credit Risk Audit Manager

Up to £90,000 + benefits: Saxton Leigh: Credit Risk Audit Manager required to ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week