ONE OF THE first requirements I was told as a young financial journalist covering the City in the 1970s was always to wear a dark suit, a clean white shirt and sober tie. “You never know”, the City Editor wagged his finger in admonition, “you may get a summons from the Bank to see the Guv’nor”.
“The Bank” was the Bank of England and “the Guv’nor” back then was Gordon Richardson, a patrician lawyer straight out of the old school. His speeches were so finely crafted, the paragraphs so balanced, the sentences so carefully weighed you felt that every comma was an indispensable fulcrum of nuance. He was the Governor during the secondary banking crisis – a period of acute sensitivity for the Bank and for the markets. Any quote out of place, any sentence without that qualifying sub-clause and the Bank would make its displeasure felt.
I’m not sure many journalists would trouble themselves now with dark suits and sober ties, though the Bank until recently had an authority of sorts. The Guv'nor is now seen as fair game – even for a critical biography before he has completed his term.
A clear sign of the changed times we are in is that the post as Sir Mervyn King’s successor as Governor is to be advertised in The Economist magazine this week. There was a time not all that long ago when being an economist would have been an automatic disqualification for the job. Closing date for applications is 8 October and the name of the successful candidate will be announced before the end of the year.
I remember covering the appointment of Eddie George as Governor in the early 1990s. That was a shock in its time as the post was widely thought to be a shoe-in for the velvet-tongued merchant banker David Scholey. The Old Boy network's candidacy was seen in the City as a done deal, the appointment as reassuring as the clunk of a Rolls Royce door. But it was George, the Bank’s chain-smoking market watcher, who got it – and an excellent fist he made of it.
It is by no means certain that any of today’s hot favourites will succeed – Paul Tucker, the current deputy governor; Lord (Adair) Turner, head of the Financial Services Authority or Gus O’Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary. The problem has less to do with their competence as much as their independence and their ability to defend the Bank against outside – and particularly political – pressure. Tucker is handicapped by Having had too close a relationship with Bob Diamond at Barclays while Gus O’Donnell and Turner in particular are seen as Labour luvvies.
It goes without saying that a working knowledge of finance, regulatory issues and the volatility of markets would be essential qualities.
The advertisement sets out the main responsibilities: “The new governor will lead the Bank through major reforms to the regulatory system, including the transfer of new responsibilities that will see the Bank take the lead in safeguarding the stability of the UK financial system." The candidate must “have experience of working in, or with, a central bank or similar institution; or will have worked at the most senior level in a major bank or other financial institution”.
An interview panel chaired by Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the permanent secretary to the Treasury, will interview the shortlisted candidates. And the Treasury Select Committee will be invited to hold a pre-commencement hearing once the successful candidate is announced – the first time a newly-appointed governor will be subject to such a hearing. The starting date for the job is 1 July 2013 and the new Governor will be appointed for a single eight-year term.
In the event of the SNP winning the independence referendum the new Governor could be faced with a huge constitutional overhaul with the Bank being asked to be the central bank of an independent Scotland. Whether it will be allowed to take on this role will be subject to the approval of the UK government at that time and the outcome of negotiations – likely to be very hard-ball even if the proposition gets this far.
Serious applicants can, however, spare themselves the ludicrous advice being offered by the BBC this week on its website.
From Sue Powell, a “relationship and career coach” comes the breathtaking advice: “preparation is key" when it comes to doing well in a job interview. “This includes doing some research on the company you are applying to, and making sure there are no inappropriate pictures of yourself available on the internet”.
Well, I never.
From Neil Mullarke, “a comedian and improviser”, comes the advice to “breathe deeply and listen closely to the questions you are being asked.” Sudarshan Singh, a “personal stylist”, has this advice: “You have to look professional. It is important that candidates give the right impression and this means wearing smart and professional clothing.” Finally, from Carly Stephens, a recruitment director at Maine-Tucker, comes this: “Let them know you want the job. Make the best of your ability in an interview situation… Give tangible examples of your experience in your answers.”
Bet you didn’t know any of that.
As for ability to handle Alex Salmond, no advice whatever is on offer.
Bill Jamieson has launched a new business website scot-buzz.co.uk go try!