Co-op CEO Peter Marks: 'The reputation of the banking industry is toast'

You Live And You Learn: Peter Marks, the retiring CEO of the Co-operative Group, on why it's the Co-op's time to shine, 'excessive' executive pay, and why it's the right time to go.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2016

I hated school. I left half-way through my A levels and joined the Co-op aged 16. I started by stacking shelves and worked my way up.

Bloody hard work and determination has got me where I am. My best skills are identifying and nurturing talent. The secret of a good CEO is to surround yourself with people who are far brighter than you are. I've built a wonderful team of superb people who are experts in their field.

The reputation of the banking industry is toast. So what an opportunity for a different kind of bank that puts ethics and principles at its core. Now, the Co-op Bank has 300 branches, but the 600 Lloyds ones will triple our presence on the high street. We'll be a real challenger to the 'big five' and that's what the industry needs. We've got to start building the banking sector up again and not keep kicking it down all the time.

I've made lots of decision that looking back I should have done differently. I have a strong feeling of loyalty towards my team, and sometimes that can get in the way of objectivity. I sometimes tolerate underperforming people longer than I should. That's a weakness.

Executive pay is excessive, and we've got to deal with it. But if an organisation wants to attract the best talent, there's a market price for that. Has that price got too much? Yes. My total pay was less than £1.7m last year. I'm running a £14bn business that employs 100,000 people, and it carries a hell of a lot of responsibility. But my members decide my pay - not me. Whether it's right or wrong, that's the way it is.

People ask why I've decided to retire now, without seeing the Lloyds deal through. Well, integrating this very complex transaction could take up to five years in total - and I'm 63 now. It's better not to go in the middle of a major integration.

I step down in May and I'm going to have a rest. My wife has been long-suffering and very rarely sees me. I'm a non-executive director at Thomas Cook, which I'll continue with, and I may take some more non-exec roles. I can't go cold turkey and not be in business at all.

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