Among the many bank bosses vilified after the British banking crisis, only Andy Hornby bounced straight back. After he lost his grip on HBOS and it had to be rescued from collapse, he was quickly rehired by Boots as chief executive.
So while Fred Goodwin had his family home attacked, and the RBS investment banker Johnny Cameron was banned from working in the City again, Mr Hornby was earning £2m for his first nine months' work at Boots.
It was one of the most remarkable comebacks in British corporate history – and the perfect redemption for the fallen golden boy.
Yesterday, though, the Boots boss quit, saying the strain of the banking crisis had finally caught up with him and he needed an enforced break. The 44-year-old is understood to have told his chairman, Stefano Pessina, that his batteries were flat after five stressful years. Mr Pessina decided Mr Hornby should leave immediately.
Mr Hornby's work as the wheels came off at HBOS took a toll on him – friends point out that he worked flat out on the rescue deal, which led to Lloyds being 41 per cent owned by the taxpayer. His mentor Archie Norman, the former Asda boss who now runs ITV, acknowledged: "I think it got very hard for him. He was having very little sleep, he was working seven days a week and didn't have the support or people to talk to." Mr Hornby himself described it as "very, very" tough.
Since he took up the Alliance Boots job, he has been working in London while his wife and two children live in York. The time spent away from them in the capital and on international business has strained the family man.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Hornby said: "After an intense last five years as CEO of two major companies, I have decided to take a few months break and, having discussed it with the board of Alliance Boots, to stand down from my post as group chief executive."
Mr Hornby, the son of a former headmaster of Clifton College public school, who was educated at Oxford and finished top of his class at Harvard Business School, will earn about £1.7m for his work in the last year. He is understood to be getting no pay-off. He insisted he had "thoroughly enjoyed" his two years at Boots, "during which time the company has performed very well".
Mr Hornby took over as HBOS chief executive in 2006 but most of his time in charge was spent trying to shore up confidence in the bank before it was finally forced into an emergency takeover by Lloyds TSB in late 2008. Though he was dealt a terrible hand, he faced accusations of being a retailer out of his depth in the world of banking when the good times ended. Ian Gordon, a banking analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, said: "He encountered some situations that spiralled out of control."
When Mr Hornby left HBOS, his friend Norman predicted he would bounce back, in words that will prove no less comforting now: "He is not warped by what has happened... and now he has got a lot to prove. And that will be a big motivator for him – to prove people wrong."
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