The election of David English follows two years of turbulence at Nationwide, during which management has faced stiff criticism from members and the industry watchdog.
He was one of four individual members of the society who sought places on the board, standing against incumbent directors. One of these, Sir Leonard Peach, a non-executive, was voted off the board.
Nationwide now has on its board three individuals who have come from its rank-and-file membership, rather than being invited by management. The others are Sheila Heywood and Paul Twyman.
Candidates needed a simple majority among voters at yesterday's annual meeting in London in order to secure a place on the board.
Mr English, who was not at the meeting, received 53,361 votes out of a total of 102,984 cast. Now aged 48, he worked for the society for 25 years, rising from a job as a cashier. He attracted the fourth largest vote.
Three other individual members who stood for election each drew fewer than 40,000 votes. One, the Rev Vivian Singh, a retired schoolmaster and Anglican clergyman, led a campaign two years ago against Nationwide's refusal to let savers transfer into a higher-paying savings account without penalty.
This resulted in a string of complaints to the Building Societies Ombudsman. Nationwide faced a seemingly ceaseless flow of complaints from customers about standards of service. There have also been redundancies among middle management.
Nationwide's annual report, published earlier this month, showed a pounds 250,000 pay-off for the corporate strategy director, John Hutchinson, who was sacked last October only three days after being transferred to the new head office in Swindon.
In a written statement to members, issued with voting papers for the annual meeting, Mr English said: 'I understand the occasional frustration of customers and will work unceasingly to ensure that the society is beyond reproach in the way it communicates and its ability to listen to its members.' He promised to make a contribution to the society by 'understanding grass-roots opinion'.
Tim Melville-Ross, chief executive of Nationwide, said there was no hostility between Nationwide's management and Mr English. 'He was employed at a senior level for a very long time,' he said. 'He has been elected fair and square. There is no question he was a serious candidate. He is a very able person.'
Mr Melville-Ross said he believed the society had substantially improved its standards of service and this was reflected in the tone of yesterday's meeting.Reuse content