Overview: Ann Godbehere – rock to a hard place

Ann Godbehere

Ann Godbehere

Ann Godbehere, the hard-nosed Canadian accountant parachuted in to help
stabilise Northern Rock, has won a new post on the board of troubled Swiss bank
UBS. To the outside world it might look like a cushy number but nothing is quite
what it seems in the world of banking.

What happened?

Godbehere became national news when she joined Ron Sandler to form the
two-person team brought in by government to act as financial paramedics and
deliver much needed resuscitation to the newly-nationalised Northern Rock.

She came with a reputation for being ‘dynamic’, a ‘safe pair of hands’, a
‘good communicator’ and the accolade of having been named, in 2006, as one of
the 50 most powerful business women in the world.

The 53 year-old joined Swiss Re in 1996 when it took over Mercantile &
General Reinsurance Group, where she had worked since 1981 following a stint at
Sun Life which began in the mid-seventies. She is a fellow of the Canadian
Certified General Accountants Association.

After joining Northern Rock last year she was, in short order, in the thick
of things, mostly notably helping manage the £24bn government loan made to the
Rock, and whether it was going to be paid back in time.

She would also have played a part in deciding to continue the bank’s
sponsorship of Newcastle Utd for what were described as good commercial reasons
(the Premiership team currently languishes just above the relegation zone).

What will happen?

Despite her work on giving Northern Rock the kiss of life Godbehere will now
leave for UBS with notoriety for having earned almost £1m out of the Rock’s
stricken circumstances for barely a year’s work. Some £170,000 was, it has to be
said, to cover the travel expenses for commuting from her Swiss home.

So, the UBS job should be less taxing in that respect. Work will barely be a
bus ride away. But don’t expect it to be easy. She joins the board of a bank
tha’s bared its soul over errors made while investing in subprime.

Only US bank Citigroup can top UBS’s $37bn (£25bn) written off due to poor
investment decisions.

Anyone who questions UBS’s ability to wear a hairshirt, or the trouble it was
in, should read the confessional shareholder report on UBS’s write-downs
published in April last year. It is a monument to financial self examination and
reveals a horror story of shaky risk assessment and absent controls.

is a bank that needs oversight writ-large. That’s probably why Godbehere has
been brought in. Someone who will tell it like it is and challenge every
assumption. Every assumption.

Godbehere is already on the audit committee of The Prudential, so she has
experience of playing this role.

UBS shareholders will want her to bring that experience, and that of sorting
things out at Northern Rock, to the boardroom table with avengence.

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