Five things you didn't know about new RBS boss Ross McEwan

As the Kiwi takes the helm of one of the UK's most troubled banks, we ask, who is this guy?

by Gabriella Griffith
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
So here it is, ‘them upstairs’ at RBS have spoken, the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority and the Treasury have agreed - Ross McEwan will take over from Stephen Hester as chief executive of RBS, the 82% tax payer owned bank.

It’s the poison chalice no other ambitious banking chief wanted. Following the unceremonious ousting of incumbent boss, Steven Hester, the idea of taking the role didn’t suit some of RBS’s other favorite candidates, such as David Roberts (Lloyds executive) and Mark McCombe (Blackrock).  So the helm has been left to internal candidate, formally head of retail at the bank, Ross McEwan.

But who is this relatively anonymous Antipodean? He has only been at RBS for just over a year and has remained below the radar until now. Fear not folks, we’ve got the lowdown.

Here are five things you didn’t know about Ross McEwan:

He failed his accounting exams twice

In an interview with his university magazine, while chief executive at AXA in Wellington, New Zealand, McEwan admitted he hasn’t always been the best with figures: ‘I’m more comfortable with people than figures. No regrets there. But if you check my academic records you’ll see I failed accounting level 2 twice before getting it on the third attempt,’ he told the university rag.

Bet he didn’t expect that to come back and bite him in the ass.

He worked in HR before getting into banking

Having admitted he’s better with people than figures, this won’t come as much of a surprise but McEwan spent several years working in HR for the likes of Unilever and National Mutual before getting into finance. It makes sense when you look at his specialism in university; he holds a bachelor of business studies, majoring in industrial relations and personnel management.

His people skills should come in handy when he’s wrangling with George Osborne and Mark Carney.

He moved to the UK having been snubbed for a chief exec role in Australia

McEwan was head of retail at Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) and heir apparent for the top spot when the chief executive retired…but the role went to the head of strategy. McEwan escaped to our fair shores a short while after.

No doubt his new appointment will be a nice two fingers up to CBA…if he manages to pull RBS out of the doldrums that is.

He’s good at working his way up

McEwan only joined RBS in August 2012 as head of retail, so his ascension to the throne has happened relatively quickly. It’s not the first time the Kiwi has made his way to the top of an institution, he joined National Mutual/Axa insurance when he was just 28 back in 1986 and made chief executive ten years later (admittedly he’s getting quicker).

He thinks the UK retail-banking sector is crap

He’s being referred to as the Anthony Jenkins (Barclays chief) of RBS, seeing as the two both come from retail backgrounds and both being seen as ‘a safe pair of hands’.

But the Kiwi is slightly more outspoken than his peer at Barclays. He certainly wasn’t backwards about coming forwards when asked what he thought about the UK banking scene back in March, ‘I have been quite surprised by how bad this industry is. There is not a great retail bank in the UK,’ he said.

Ouch. Thanks Ross.

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