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Fresh stars will replace HBOS’ lost luminaries

Seems almost impossible not to be drawn into talking about HBOS this week doesn’t it?

We’re all used to seeing comings and goings in the financial services industry but poor old HBOS is setting a new trend – goings and goings. If it continues at this rate there’ll soon be nobody left to turn out the lights.

We hear there is significant damage limitation activity going on behind closed doors, particularly aimed at reassuring staff the wheels aren’t about to fly off. Well, let me offer some words of comfort to the beleaguered – not only will the wheels stay on but my guess is that they’ll end up turning more smoothly.

In the short term even the best-oiled machine will falter if you remove its drive. But nobody’s irreplaceable and it’s a safe bet that HBOS will soon identify new stars to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of their predecessors.

A classic and relatively recent illustration of this was the departure of managing director Andrew Longhurst from Cheltenham & Gloucester. Initially, his step away was only one pace removed – voluntarily relinquishing the C&G helm to take wider responsibilities across the Lloyds TSB Group. But shortly after this, following a spectacular falling out, he did a Rhett Butler and was gone with the wind.

From being a driving force he had become a spent force. But the Longhurst legacy within C&G is legendary. The man was a visionary who pushed C&G into punching well above its weight, becoming in the process the most cost efficient and successful building society in the land. Staff loved him and the public loved C&G – which was trend-settingly different and a joy to deal with.

When C&G was acquired by Lloyds Bank in 1995 what it had become was an awesome testament to what one man’s charisma, drive and ability can do for a company. When he departed, staff hung their heads in sorrow and harbingers of doom predicted C&G would never be the same again.

Not true. Well, not true then. The new team continued to drive C&G from strength to strength. Certainly the tone was different but the performance continued to be spectacular.

And new managing director Roger Burden was the right man to harness a refreshed team and lead C&G to loftier heights in the new Lloyds TSB stable.

Reading the accolades heaped on the exiting HBOS Bolton/Cleary dream team you’d think they were Longhurst clones reincarnated and that their departure is about to cause HBOS’ lending and intermediary activity to implode. But whatever their legacy, I predict the history books will show that, just as with C&G, there were others waiting in the wings ready to don their mantles, ready to drive the HBOS leviathan to further success.

This is a reality HBOS staff should keep in the forefront of their minds while negotiating the few grey days which doubtless loom ahead. peter mounty


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