Granted, it is a very trying time to be a banker. But Lloyds shareholders were no doubt hoping for a little more staying power from new boss, António Horta-Osório. Not even a year into his tenure as group CEO of Lloyds Banking Group, he is taking a medical leave of absence to recover from stress-related fatigue.
Horta-Osório was poached from Santander earlier this year to undertake a turnaround of epic proportions. He’s fought the good fight so far, enforcing a £3.3bn provision for the misselling of payment protection insurance and slashing 45,000 jobs across the group as part of his cost-cutting mission. But his antics have taken their toll. Lloyds official statement today read: ‘The board of Lloyds Banking Group announces that following medical advice António Horta-Osório is taking a temporary leave of absence from his duties as group chief executive of the bank due to illness.’
It’s the worst possible time to be stepping back from the CEO role. All the financial markets are in flux and the Eurozone crisis has kept financial, political and business leaders at panic stations for the past year or more. Perhaps there’s more to his departure than meets the eye…
The part-nationalised bank's board of directors will meet today to discuss an interim replacement. Tim Tookey, Lloyds' finance director, is in the frame for the job, but he’s only a very short term solution: Tookey is working through his notice period having resigned in the summer.
But perhaps short term is time enough. Lloyds has said that Horta-Osório ‘is expected to return to his position before the end of the year’. That equals to a six-week or so leave of absence. Paid, of course. MT reckons that, with a yearly pay packet of £2.06m, Horta-Osório will earn around £360,000 while he’s sitting at home, 'recuperating'. Nice work if you can get it.
BBC business editor Robert Peston is unsure whether Horta-Osório will reassume the reins at all: ‘The big question is whether Mr Horta-Osorio will ever come back,’ he says. And, in the macho, dog-eat-dog world of banking, there's no doubt he’ll find it hard to maintain the same level of credibility should he return.
The City is a stressful place but the unwritten rule is never to show it. Can you imagine HSBC’s Stuart Gulliver, Barclays’ Bob Diamond and RBS boss Stephen Hester succumbing to Eurozone fatigue?