David Prosser: Right man, from the right place, at the right time

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The Independent Online

Outlook: There was a time when the new year honours list used to shower the great and the good from financial services with gongs galore. Think Sir Fred Goodwin and his ilk. Not this year, however. Honouring those who had exposed Britain to credit crunch and recession was never an option.

Still, one solitary representative of the world of financial services did find his way on to the Queen's list. Step forward Sandy Crombie – Sir Sandy since the new year – whose knighthood came just three months before the announcement that Standard Life's chief executive planned to step down after a 42-year career at the Scottish insurer, once a suitable replacement is found.

Now we know how Sir Sandy will spend some of his new-found free time. And his appointment as senior independent non-executive director at Royal Bank of Scotland – in effect replacing Bob Scott, the man who sanctioned Sir Fred's pension pay-off – ticks all the right boxes.

Not least, they don't come much more Scottish than Sir Sandy, a handy sop to all those braveheart patriots who have bemoaned Edinburgh's loss of control since the taxpayer – via Westminster-based UK Financial Investments – took a 70 per cent stake in RBS in order to save it from collapse.

More importantly for the rest of us, Sir Sandy knows all about leading a company back from the brink. The first thing he did on becoming Standard Life chief executive five years ago was to sell off £7.5bn worth of the insurer's equities after the Financial Services Authority ordered it to radically improve its capital funding. The crisis culminated in Standard Life's demutualisation in 2006, a process which Sir Sandy led to critical acclaim. Nor can Sir Sandy be accused of the venality associated with some former RBS executives. His record on sharing the pain in difficult times is a decent one, beginning with the £500,000 bonus he passed up three years ago when Standard Life was still struggling.

For these reasons and more, the powers that be have reasons to be grateful Sir Sandy has agreed to join RBS. Some suspect, for example, that January's knighthood wasn't entirely unconnected to Standard Life's participation in the disastrous Bradford & Bingley rights issue last year. Either that or the insurer's very public support for Lloyds TSB's takeover of HBOS.

Sir Sandy brings one more handy little chunk of experience to the table too: he knows what it's like to run the gauntlet of the tabloid press, having once been lambasted for buying a Porsche shortly after firing 1,000 staff. He won't drop a clanger like that again in a hurry – the sort of PR nous RBS needs in spades right now.

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