Not since Fred the Shred was at his most dastardly has a banking boss made the gossip pages of the tabloids. But this week Lloyds boss Antonio Horta-Osorio strolled into the headlines hand in-hand with Russell Group director general Dr Wendy Platt, after The Sun revealed an alleged tryst between the pair
The paper’s report came complete with much angry finger-pointing from veteran City analyst David Buik, who blustered: “When you’re in the public headlights, at the very top of a bank that has cost the taxpayer billions of pounds, your behaviour has to be completely and utterly exemplary.”
Investors did not agree: they were remarkably unfazed by Horta-Osorio’s extra-curricular dealings, with shares closing 0.8 per cent higher yesterday.
Casting judgement over such behaviour is easy – and Buik did, in no uncertain terms. But should bosses’ private lives be held to account to the same degree as, say, politicians, many of whom base their campaigns on upholding family values?
It is true chief executives of the UK’s top companies must be prepared to be scrutinised by the public. Recent scandals involving BHS and Sports Direct suggest this has never been more true – people at the top of both companies squirmed as uncomfortable details of their working lives were cross examined by MPs.
And admittedly, it is a little embarrassing for Horta-Osorio that back in 2013 he led the launch of a “Code of Responsibility” at Lloyds, which exhorted workers to ask themselves questions such as “have I understood the risks and implications of what I am doing?” and “would I be happy to tell my colleagues, family and friends about my actions?”. Awkward.
But it is also true that, during Horta-Osorio’s time at the helm, shares have almost trebled, from their low of 23p just after he was appointed in 2011, to a pre-referendum high of more than 72p.
And ultimately, in the City, the numbers count. So while Horta-Osorio, who is married, may face a difficult time at home over the summer, investors, bosses and colleagues should cut him some slack. Yes, chief executives should consider themselves accountable – but the main point of that accountability should be their bottom line.