City & Corporate: Hornby happily rewrites history

Getting Andy Hornby back into gainful employment is one of the cleverest bits of PR seen for a long time. Hornby - to remind those of you with short memories - was the chief executive of HBOS, the Halifax Bank of Scotland group.

On his watch, he and his board got a bit over excited and as a result lent rather large sums to a lot of people who are unlikely ever to pay it back. Normally when banks do this, they go bust. HBOS did not. Instead, it sold itself to Lloyds TSB, so it went bust instead - or would have done if the Government had not stepped in to prop it up.

Now there has been something of a witch hunt in the City against those who have been in any way involved with the banking collapses, either to stop them being re-employed or to get them out of other jobs where they are thought to be no longer credible. Shareholders never again want to see the executives whom they hold responsible in a position of power. For Hornby to come back, they needed to be appeased.

Yet we learned on Monday that Hornby has become chief executive of Alliance Boots, which is a neat bit of finessing because it is not financial and it is not a listed company, so there are no outside shareholders to complain. But there is still public interest to consider and what is interesting in the articles written about his return is how none of them really mention the fiasco at HBOS, and he does not seek to defend himself. There is no attempt at self-justification, nor to transfer the blame onto his predecessor Sir James Crosby.

Instead, the strategy has been neither to explain nor to complain. HBOS has been written out of history, almost as an aberration.

The implication is that none of the banks saw the problems coming, so it is unfair to pick on Hornby. Instead he is positioned as Mr Nice Guy, or Mr Integrity. While the Adam Applegarths and the Fred Goodwins left with a wheelbarrow full of money, Hornby turned down all the extras and left - by their standards - with very little.

And the implication here is that he ought to be allowed to get another job. And it worked.

- Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard.

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