PROFILE: Howard Davies; Howard's way to the Bank

The newly appointed deputy governor at Threadneedle Street tells William Kay he has long been prepared to take on jobs that people think he cannot do

HOWARD DAVIES is miffed. To the best of his knowledge, the Downing Street vetting machine has not been checking up on his extra-marital activities - or lack of them.

"I don't like the implications of that, if they really haven't been asking around," he said with a poker face.

The new deputy governor of the Bank of England, appointed last week to replace the maritally errant Rupert Pennant-Rea, cannot resist gently making fun of his predecessor's embarrassment. But he chan- ges gear smoothly to report that he seriously intends to get in touch with Pennant-Rea to discuss management topics at the Bank.

Throughout his high-flying career, Davies - who is 44 but at first sight looks 60 because of his bald pate and white hair - has displayed a powerful combination of irreverence and razor-sharpness that a succession of top- drawer potential employers have found attractive. Awareness of his own ability and the natural independence that many only children acquire have also given him a self-confidence reaching well beyond his years.

The son of a Manchester pub estate manager who qualified as an architect at evening classes, Davies soared through the education system, going from Manchester Grammar School by scholarship to Merton College, Oxford, where he achieved what he is careful to describe as a "perfectly respectable" second-class degree in history and French. "I was the first Merton history scholar in a long time not to get a first," he recalled, "but then I was doing French as well." He was also pursuing an energetic university career in acting and journalism, editing the student newspaper, Cherwell, with the current editor of the Times, whom he still refers to chummily as "Pete" Stothard.

Despite Davies's lack of a first, by the time his class of degree was known he had already talked his way into a job with the Foreign Office. "I thought of going into journalism," he said, "but I applied to the FO, along with Shell, Mitsui and what was then the British Overseas Airways Corporation, because I thought they would give me the chance to travel, in the way one does. The FO job came up early, and it was the sort of offer you mentioned in the Junior Common Room."

But he soon found that the diplomatic life was not for him. Although he stayed for two years, he decided he had had enough after three months at the Paris embassy negotiating with the Department of Protocol at the Quai d'Orsay about how many motorbikes should escort the British foreign secretary's car from the airport. "It wasn't fair," he said. "My counterpart at the Dutch embassy had some policy responsibility - I was just concerned with protocol."

Davies fancied a shot at management and lined himself up a place at London Business School. But the Civil Service decided he was too valuable to lose, so he was transferred to what he found was the more congenial atmosphere of the Treasury.

That proved to be a smarter move than he could ever have guessed. He came into regular contact with a middle-ranking Bank of England executive called Edward George.

However, Davies decided that - for the time being at least - the Civil Service was not for him. "I didn't think I was quite suited to going into the same building every day until I was in my sixties," he said.

So he undertook that delayed business course - at Stanford, California - before joining McKinsey, the prestigious US management consultants. There Davies found himself working for Archie Norman, now chief executive of Asda, the supermarket group, on a study for Benson & Hedges, the cigarette maker.

"He was supposed to be doing the number-crunching while I did the communicating with the client," said Norman. "But Howard being Howard, it ended up the other way around."

The two have kept in touch and Norman reckons that Davies has the best "five-second mind" he has met, meaning his ability to sum up situations very quickly and make an incisive comment. "He genuinely enjoys government and government issues," Norman added, "and hopping in and out of ministers' offices. But everything he has done has been exactly right for Howard, and that includes the Bank of England. He will be an absolute tower, bridging the gap between the Treasury and the City."

While Davies was at McKinsey he had a spell at the Treasury as a special adviser to Nigel Lawson. A junior whip at the Treasury then was a certain John Major.

"That was a very fortunate contact," Davies agreed. "Funnily enough, while I was there my wife, Prue, was working on a Channel 4 News programme of 'tips for the top'. She asked me if I had any ideas, and I did suggest Major. Do you know, they didn't even take me seriously."

Meanwhile, a past contact at McKinsey helped Davies to his next job - and possibly the one after that. He was flying back from visiting a client in New Zealand when he met John Banham, later Sir John, at Singapore airport. Sir John was about to quit as controller of the Audit Commission to become director-general of the Confederation of British Industry.

"Who's replacing you?" inquired Davies. "Er . . . you are," Banham replied. Davies insists that that was a joke, but accepts that Banham put in a good word for him - as he did at the CBI, five years later, when that job fell free.

"I've always been ambitious," said Davies, "except that some people think that means you have an overriding goal. I have been opportunistically ambitious. If someone says 'Here's a difficult job you probably can't do. Would you like to have a go?' I say 'What do you mean, I can't do it?' I'm prepared to take risks. But if you ask where I'll be in 15 years, I am at a loss."

If Archie Norman's experience is anything to go by, Eddie George will have to keep an eye on his new deputy when he turns up at Threadneedle Street in September.

Davies intends to take seriously his responsibility for the Bank's internal organisation, and pointed out that he would have to stand in for the governor for long stretches when George is abroad. He is also a keen advocate of the Bank's independence.

Moving the Bank of England to west London is Davies's only half-joking initial recommendation to his new employer. "Why not?" he asked. "After all, there is no reason why it needs to occupy that prime site in the City of London. And it just so happens that I live west of London, so it would be a lot more convenient for me."

But even if he cannot persuade George to up sticks, he can at least console himself that the Bank's sports ground at Roehampton is not too far from his home.

Davies is a keen sportsman, but at the age of 44 he is finally having to bow to Anno Domini, forsaking his beloved football for cricket.

"I had a real Gazza injury on my left knee this season," he grumbled. "Tore my cartilage and ruptured my cruciate ligaments, just like Paul Gascoigne.

"Cruciate ligaments can be mended, as they have with Gascoigne, but to my chagrin the doctors said it wasn't worthwhile in my case."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick