Stephen Hester was called in by politicians to run a reeling RBS. Today they and his fellow directors threw him under a bus.
That may yet be a decision that could rebound upon them.
Mr Hester has his flaws. His remuneration remained a subject of controversy with a public struggling under the burden of austerity and weary of the excess of an industry that their taxes have kept running.
He didn’t do himself many favours being seen riding with his local fox hunt like a latterday lord of the manor, or with his admission that even his parents thought he was overpaid. He had an unfortunate habit of putting his foot in his mouth.
And yet RBS was in an awful mess when he took over, with its shares languishing at 9p and the very real prospect it might have to be fully taken into state ownership. Many would argue that it should have been – including Sir Mervyn King, the outgoing governor of the Bank of England.
RBS is now on the road to something like a recovery. The fact is that it is not down to Mr Hester alone, as he acknowledged today, but he nonetheless deserves credit for the job he has done. There are not many who could have done it as well. There are even fewer who would have.
The Treasury certainly had a role in his departure; it couldn’t have been otherwise. But so did Sir Philip Hampton. If the chairman had wanted Mr Hester as his man, he would have got him.
And it’s hard to escape the feeling that Mr Hester has been treated rather shabbily. The announcement, hurried out after the Stock Exchange had closed, and most of the City had gone home, speaks of a defenestration. As such, if the Treasury had hoped Mr Hester’s departure would lead to a quiet spell and a period of peace over pay, it is in for a disappointment.
Sir Philip has made clear that the new man will be paid “a commercial rate”. That could well mean even more than Mr Hester’s hugely contentious salary.
If RBS wants a big name to see it through privatisation, whoever it is will likely demand big money to enter what looks like something of a bear pit.