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by Phil Stott | August 31, 2009


Associated Press/John Stillwell

Andy Hornby, who led the Halifax Bank of Scotland group to its worst ever annual loss—and into the hands of the UK government in the process—was last seen apologizing to the UK Parliament, HBOS' shareholders, and most of the populace of the British Isles for the way the bank had imploded under his watch. All good, high-profile stuff, redolent of the heady days at the turn of the year where financial industry villains were ten-a-penny, and literally the only thing that could keep the Presidential elections off the front pages of newspapers around the world.  

Less easy to spot in the media, however, is Hornby's remarkable resurgence in the British business world; he was recently announced as the new head of Alliance Boots, the country's largest High Street pharmacy chain, and an international distributor of pharmaceutical supplies. It's an appointment that has been met with a little outrage, but nowhere near what one might have expected for a man who has taken the reins at one of Britain's best-loved brands having recently presided over the destruction of another. Full disclosure: as a former HBOS employee, Hornby (pictured front and center) was technically my boss—albeit a distantly removed one—for almost a year.


Even Alliance Boots chairman Stefano Pessina, who appointed Hornby, is aware that it's a controversial decision, telling Sky News that before making the decision he "had many, many conversations with him, because I was aware of a potential problem, of course."

In light of all that, how is it possible that someone like Hornby has resurrected his career, while other former high-flying members of the banking industry have been unable to shake the pariah tag? Here are four things that have worked in Hornby's favor, and that other execs may do well to learn from, should they ever find themselves in similar circumstances.


1)      He's not Fred Goodwin
This is an advantage that's not to be underestimated. Much as Dick Fuld became the poster-child for the excesses of Wall Street, so Goodwin (known to the UK tabloid media as "Fred the Shred") bore the brunt of the public outrage over the collapse in the City. Hornby's actions also spoke volumes: while Goodwin was negotiating a bumper pension from Royal Bank of Scotland even as the government was preparing to seize it, Hornby eschewed his usual bonus, saving not a little face—and media scrutiny—in the process.  


2)      He kept a low profile
Another crucial difference between the two men is that Hornby never tried to control the media cycle. While Goodwin tried to defend himself and justify the payouts he had negotiated, Hornby remained silent—perhaps the only thing to do when the media is in full lynch-mob mindset.  


3)      He expressed regret
OK, so not many can get away with turning around and saying "sorry about that £11 billion loss last year," but it seemed to work for Hornby. It certainly seemed to impress Stefano Pessina, who told
Retail Week that "he understands he has made some mistakes and was more than sorry. He has paid for it. You cannot put people in a ghetto because they’ve made a mistake."


4)      He has other experience—and is moving on to a different industry
Hornby spent years working his way up to the top spot at UK supermarket chain Asda, and has a strong background in the retail world. In his Retail Week interview, Pessina admitted that it was this background that had attracted Alliance Boots: “We haven’t hired him for his banking experience. We want his retail and particularly his management experience.” Presumably the firm is also banking on Hornby to be hungry to redeem himself.


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