YOU GET THE FEELING that Bruce Van Saun works hard to avoid thinking too much about the past. His agenda as group finance director of RBS, Britain’s most controversial bank, is the here and now and the next couple of years; in short, the rest of the time covering the five-year plan to resuscitate RBS after its dalliance with collapse. When he talks, Van Saun keeps the focus on the test that rebuilding RBS presents to its executives.
“I don’t think I’d be attracted to something that was a maintenance job, where it’s clipping coupons or without a lot of change agenda associated with it,” he says.
Accountancy Age’s sister publication Financial Director meets Wall Street veteran Van Saun three years after arriving at RBS. We need little reminding of the trouble in which the bank found itself when he arrived. Reportedly with just days to go before total insolvency in 2008, RBS, along with Lloyds, was bailed out to the tune of £20bn and effectively privatised by the UK government. The state now owns 82% of the bank. Its then chief executive, Fred Goodwin, has departed and faced public vilification ever since. A new board is now in charge, the business model has been completely redrawn and thousands of staff have lost their jobs.
After 25 years on Wall Street, Van Saun took the job following a telephone conversation with new CEO Stephen Hester which, he says, went something like: “How would you like to join me on the biggest turnaround on the planet?” Van Saun blithely adds the offer had “a certain attraction to it”.
He arrived in London in October 2009 after spending eight weeks discussing the job and going over the bank’s numbers. He had, at that time, spent just over a year advising private equity and before that 11 years with the Bank of New York Mellon where he had served in several posts, finishing as CFO and vice chairman. He was instrumental in bedding down the merger that created the bank and in transforming it from a regional player to a globally recognised force. He also had spells with a small collection of financial institutions; his only other job outside of Wall Street was with food giant General Mills, makers of Cheerios and Häagan-Dazs ice cream.
For the full Financial Director interview click here
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