Abbey shops at Woolworths for branch network supremo

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The Independent Online

Abbey, the high street bank struggling to revive its fortunes, hired Jonathan Hart from the bargain basement emporium Woolworths yesterday to run its branch network.

Mr Hart, 43, will join Britain's second-biggest mortgage lender on 1 March. He will bring experience of being managing director of Woolworths' 21 out-of-town superstores under the Big W brand. Abbey has been beefing up its senior team by looking outside the world of financial services for some time. It has already attracted Vittorio Radice, the former chief executive of Selfridges, and Lord Waheed Alli, the TV mogul, to be part of its new consumer panel to divine what consumers really want from their bank.

Abbey is revamping its brand and recruiting and training staff in a bid to boost sales through its 742 branches. Luqman Arnold, the chief executive of Abbey, is trying to refocus Britain's sixth biggest bank on its core retail business after it had previously diversified into more wholesale banking structures, which landed it with nearly £1bn of losses last year.

Mark Pain, the Abbey customer service director, said: "Given the huge organisational transformation we are undertaking, Mr Hart is the ideal person to lead the revitalisation of our branch network."

Mr Hart spent much of his career at Dixons, where he helped develop The Link mobile phone stores and revitalised the core chain. He joined Woolworths in 2002. A spokeswoman for Woolworths said Mr Hart had handed his notice in six months ago as he wanted a bigger job than running the Big W stores.

Steve Lewis, the retail director of the Woolworths main chain, with responsibility for running its 808 town centre stores, will take on Big W. Woolworths said it was still reviewing the future of its Big W format with a view to either selling it or expanding it. A decision will be announced on 24 March.