Inside Track: All bets on Ross McEwan as field of candidates for RBS narrows

Mark Kleinman
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AND then there was one. The search for Stephen Hester’s successor as chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) was never going to be straightforward – George Osborne put paid to that prospect by engineering the current boss’s removal last month.

So it was hardly surprising that Mark McCombe, the former HSBC executive who now runs BlackRock Asian operations, made it clear yesterday that he was not interested in the job.

McCombe, an admirer of Hong Kong’s low personal tax regime and a key executive in the eyes of BlackRock chief Larry Fink, was always an unlikely contender.

His is not the only withdrawal. David Roberts, the deputy chairman of Lloyds Banking Group and one of the names canvassed by RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton prior to Hester’s resignation, is understood to have told colleagues that he is committed to remaining at Lloyds.

That leaves Ross McEwan, the head of RBS’s UK retail bank, as the leading candidate for the job, barring a last-minute change of heart by Bruce Van Saun, who is heading back to the US to run Citizens.

McEwan may have had little interaction with the City during his brief time at RBS but has impressed Hampton with his efforts to date.

Do not rule out entirely the emergence of a surprise external candidate but my money’s firmly on McEwan. We shouldn’t have long to wait to find out.odd one out

Name the odd one out on this list of business heavyweights and the companies with which they are associated: Stephen Hester (RBS), Lord Carter (Informa), Paul Manduca (Prudential) and John Rishton (Rolls Royce)?

The answer is Manduca, who became chairman of the Pru after serving as a non-executive director whereas the others were all appointed chief executive after stints as non-execs.

Could this trend contain the seeds of the next corporate governance bust-up with City investors?

I ask because institutional shareholders are starting to grumble (politely) about the number of full-time bosses being drawn directly from the non-executive ranks of the same companies.

A non-executive, the theory goes, may not be keen to upset the boardroom apple-cart if they think there is a good chance of eventually landing the top job there.

The opposite may also be true, of course: that it is better to appoint a chief executive who already knows the company and its board members rather than taking the plunge with an outsider.

Whichever perspective is right, it will only take a couple more examples for it to become a wider talking point. publicity-shy robey dodges bullet

An intriguing story reaches me from Whitehall about Simon Robey, one of the best-known and most accomplished advisers to corporate Britain.

Ten months ago, when he resigned after 25 years at Morgan Stanley, Robey faced a divergent choice about the next stage of his career: pursue more of the same, albeit in the more genteel environs of a St James’s-based banking boutique; or take a post in David Cameron’s government.

People familiar with the talks say that Robey was in discussions with George Osborne, the chancellor, about a job as City minister, which would – naturally – have been accompanied by a seat in the House of Lords.

He got cold feet, and joined forces with Sir Simon Robertson, the HSBC deputy chairman, instead.

Since then, Robey has continued to advise long-standing clients including BP and Royal Bank of Scotland.

Given his inveterate desire to remain out of the public eye, it’s safe to say he made a wise choice.