Burnt in effigy, Martin Wheatley has the steel to shake City
The chief of the new Financial Conduct Authority smells blood
Leading Britain's chief financial watchdog might sound like a tough job, but it's nothing compared with what Martin Wheatley had to endure in the same role in Hong Kong.
After Lehman Brothers collapsed he become the focus of the anger of locals who feared losing their investments.
"I had people marching on the streets with banners with photos of me on them saying go home, death of justice, disgrace," Mr Wheatley said. "I had noise all day outside my office where they would camp with klaxons and drums. I had a funeral effigy of me burnt outside the office. That was the set of things I had to deal with. It's a different sort of pressure than in the UK."
The political scrutiny in the UK – he started at the Financial Services Authority in September last year – is also nothing compared with what he experienced in Asia.
"Here I have to appear occasionally in front of the Treasury Select Committee and they'll give me a pretty tough time for an hour or so," he said. "In Hong Kong I think my record was 11 hours in one session in front of the legislative council. They would be shouting at me in Cantonese and I would be listening to an ear piece to an interpreter trying to say to me what was being said in English. I remember after one of those sessions one of my team saying how they thought that it was amazing that I remained calm."
It's rather hard to imagine this thin, outwardly affable 53-year-old losing his cool. And it was this calm intensity that helped Mr Wheatley pull through in Hong Kong. How his difficulties there were resolved is something to which the City of London should pay close attention: "We survived and I'm delighted that, tough though it was, and it was very, very tough, we got them all their money back."
Mr Wheatley is a rather different beast to his predecessors. He is neither grand like Sir Howard Davies was, nor flash like John Tiner; you can't imagine him driving a Porsche like Mr Tiner's with a personalised number plate. Despite spending 18 years at the London Stock Exchange during the first part of his career, he is a long way from being part of the City establishment like Hector Sants, the last chief executive of the Financial Services Authority before it becomes Mr Wheatley's Financial Conduct Authority.
No, Mr Wheatley is all business, bringing to the role a wintry determination to get results. Those who worked with him at the exchange, where he drove through radical reforms, praise his incisive mind. In Hong Kong people who dealt with him talk about his work ethic: "You wouldn't see him at the clubs with the other expats with a gin in his hand," one banking source said.
He rose to deputy chief executive of the London Stock Exchange before making an unlikely career change.
"I didn't chose to go into regulation, I had some time after leaving the stock exchange and I became a cabinet maker. I was designing and making furniture. It was great fun. It had always been a hobby and I'd always fancied doing it on a full-time basis."
He was on a skiing break from his cabinet-making when he was approached by a headhunter about the regulation job in Hong Kong.
He describes watching the meltdown that occurred in Western financial markets while out there as like watching "a complete horror show".
"Not being quite close to it you didn't realise how broken and dysfunctional it was."
And Mr Wheatley doesn't spare regulators from criticism for what happened: "There was a massive, collective bad judgement which includes the regulators, who were seduced by what went on just like everyone else."
Banks... "The truth is that if our supermarkets in this country, if John Lewis operated in a way that banks do, they wouldn't have any customers."
Working in Hong Kong... "I had a funeral effigy of me burnt outside the office. That was the sort of things I had to deal with. It's a different sort of pressure than in the UK."
2005-2008... "That was a horror period in terms of what we are discovering today in terms of the way people were abused in their financial services.
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