Profile: Coops nurtures Abbey habit - Thomas Coops, director of communications, Abbey

Thomas Coops is sitting within sight of his childhood neighbourhood.

Abbey's Triton Square headquarters is just a stone's throw from the spot in Russell Square where his parents' house once stood.

'I remember seeing the Post Office Tower being built,' Coops says. 'So I have moved around the block but I don't still live in the centre of town.'

The house has since been demolished to make way for the Renoir Cinema, but Coops still has the soft, whispering accent of an affable Londoner.

He is also an Abbey man through and through, having spent his entire 17-year career with the building-society-turned-bank.

The week of our meeting, the Abbey press office is still running a sweepstake on the date rival bank HBOS will announce its expected counter bid to Abbey's potential £8.8bn merger with Spain's Grupo Santander. Coops is pushed for time as the City is on tenterhooks for the HBOS offer. But he still manages to punctuate the interview with his mantra of 'making order out of chaos'.

Given the sensitive nature of the Santander/Abbey tie-up, and the looming HBOS bid, it is hardly surprising that Coops will not discuss what the future holds for him and his 70-strong department.

Coops projects a laid-back and almost unkempt demeanour at stark odds with the traditional world of retail banking and the comms machine of a plc. Yet, given his long service, he is completely at ease in the Abbey environment.

It is easy to imagine Coops having a few jars in the pub with the Abbey comms department or a pack of City hacks. Kellogg's European director of corporate affairs Chris Wermann, a former colleague and personal friend, recalls how the pair 'worked and played hard' when Coops was IR manager and Wermann head of PR. 'He is extremely competent, a good listener and excellent at delivery. He is also very supportive and good at getting people to come together,' he says.

There is also a more practical and controlling edge to Coops. Two years ago he centralised Abbey's comms function and, in particular, internal comms 'so there are no people hiding in different parts of the organisation and they all report to the centre'.

Coops's sense of control stems partly from legal training with magic circle law firm Freshfields. But he dropped law to join Abbey National's graduate training scheme. Coops uses this background to 'make the complex simple' and 'read a brief quickly to get the main points out', both of which he says are useful skills 'if you are a clearly argumentative character'. He says: 'A lot of people think I am quite laid back. But I do enjoy a good verbal sparring.'

Coops's career has spanned Abbey National's demutualisation and the tenure of several CEOs. He also has frontline experience, having spent six months in 1990 running the firm's Edgware branch. It was at the forefront of a modernisation programme, that like initiatives at other banks, was to transform big local branches into purely customer-facing operations with admin and processing confined to remote sites.

He also talks keenly about being head of a team from 1991 that assessed the feasibility of new financial products through polls of frontline staff and, more recently, handling the restructure of the firm after the 2002 appointment of CEO Luqman Arnold. Coops has also had to manage the City's views of a firm that has been through an expensive rebrand and which, in February last year, unveiled its worst ever losses, garnering the press moniker 'Shabby Abbey'.

'One thing I have learned in the past couple of years is that if you can't explain a strategy clearly it is a good bet that it is the wrong strategy,' he says.

Although he admits to having thought about leaving Abbey, Coops points out that his four-year tenure as head of comms is one of the longest periods he has ever spent in any role at the bank: 'As long as you don't stay too long in a position, it is as good as moving around.'

But Santander's senior position in the proposed merger makes it possible that he could find his role subordinate to Santander executive V-P of corporate comms Juan Manuel Cendoya. Coops could be on the move again, though it is hard to imagine him straying very far.


1989: Branch manager, Abbey National Edgware branch

1990: Branch liaison manager, Abbey National (retail bank)

1992: Senior project manager, Abbey National (retail bank)

1995: Investor relations manager, Abbey National

2000: Director of communications, Abbey National

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