Andy Hornby, the chief executive of Alliance Boots, has resigned ‘with immediate effect’, citing only the desire to ‘take a few months’ break’ as the reasoning behind it. It seems a rather sudden way to announce one’s intentions to take a holiday, but then again, Hornby has never been the sort of person to do things half-heartedly: he left his previous job, as HBOS CEO, just as suddenly (although arguably in rather less mysterious circumstances).
Hornby says he’s stepping down after an ‘intense five years’ as boss of two of the country’s biggest businesses. And so it has been: Hornby is the man usually credited for the swift decline of HBOS, which narrowly avoided being nationalised in 2008 when it was bought by Lloyds. There’s an argument that it wasn’t necessarily all his fault (the bank was already heading for a fall, thanks to an aggressive lending strategy imposed by predecessor Sir James Crosby), but Hornby apologised for his role in the debacle anyway. ‘It has affected shareholders, many of whom are colleagues, it’s affected the communities in which we live… and we are extremely sorry for the turn of events that has bought it about,’ he said.
Nevertheless, the Boots gig was thought of as Hornby’s big chance to make up for the HBOS debacle. He was 39 when he got the top job at HBOS, one of the youngest banking bosses on the block. He cut his teeth as one of Archie Norman’s golden boys at Asda, along with the likes of Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King. So moving to Boots was a return to his roots – and so far, he hasn’t fared too badly: in the first half of the year, for example, the company posted a 6% rise in revenues to £8.9bn. Not bad, particularly given the state of the high street at the moment.
The KKR-funded 2007 takeover of Boots by Alliance Unichem was the first-ever private equity buyout of a FTSE 100 company. The company then attracted criticism when it moved its headquarters from Nottingham to Zug in Switzerland.
Hornby is going without a payoff, which suggests the decision was entirely in his hands. One analyst told the Evening Standard that ‘he’s running a big international business and he has been away from home a lot. It must be quite stressful’. He’s also leaving with chairman Stefano Pessina’s best wishes. That’s all we know at present, but watch this space…