And yet, by its own admission, RBS was not able to go hunting for the type of banker that would normally be in the running to occupy the chief executive’s office. Citing “political controversy”, Sir Philip Hampton, the bank’s chairman, said the board had decided it “wouldn’t pay a big buy-out package”.
This may be understandable; who wouldn’t like to get the same service for less? But this constraint can only mean that the potential candidate pool for the job was, by necessity, made that much smaller.
Take for instance Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group. To secure his services, Lloyds had to buy him out of options in his previous employer Santander worth more than £4m. Or consider Antony Jenkins, the Barclays boss who is regarded as the template for Mr McEwan’s appointment. Hiring him from Barclays would also cost several million pounds to buy out his unvested options.
So, to take Sir Philip at his word, it would appear that RBS applied a criteria to its search that effectively precluded most individuals qualified to do the job. Can we therefore believe that retail specialist Mr McEwan really represents the best qualified manager for RBS? It seems unlikely.
Don’t break out the champagne for IAG yet
Has Willie Walsh done it again? The latest results from aviation giant, International Airlines Group, suggest that Spanish carrier Iberia has been added to a growing list of outmoded legacy airlines that the pugnacious Irishman has succeeded in knocking into shape – despite fierce resistance from unions.
IAG, formed in 2011 through the merger of British Airways and Iberia, soared to the top of the FTSE 100 leaderboard yesterday after posting a forecast-beating €245m (£213m) second-quarter operating profit compared with losses of €4m last year.
The enthusiasm from investors marked a sharp turnaround from just a few months ago, when Mr Walsh himself admitted that in hindsight BA would perhaps have been better waiting before it climbed into bed with the Spaniards.
But on Friday all of the talk was of Iberia “turning the corner” and the controversial restructuring “already bearing fruit”. After more than six months of intense pressure, no one can blame Walsh for seizing on the second quarter figures to generate some enthusiasm around IAG.
However, drill down into the numbers for the first six months of IAG’s financial year and the figures don’t look so rosy after all. Once all restructuring costs are included, pre-tax losses widened to €506m from €358m during the six months to June 30.
The pick-up in the past three months may have provided Walsh with some breathing space to continue the unenviable task of slashing costs from a much-loved national airline, but it’s not time to pop the champagne corks yet.