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The Stephen Hester media witch hunt must stop now

I was listening to the Today programme this morning with James Naughtie presenting and he was interviewing the chief executive of RBS Stephen Hester. No sooner did we get into the interview and Mr Hester was asked if his salary wasn’t enough. This really irritated me – I am sick of this media witch hunt against this guy that is trying to do his job.

Let’s get something straight – he wasn’t a banker before the banking crisis of 2008 which meant he wasn’t involved in any of the mistakes of the previous regime. He was taken on board to remove the entire RBS board and start again building the bank’s balance sheet back up and stop it from imploding and costing everybody (including me and you) a lot of money. Apparently, he is on track to do that and is already making a huge difference to the business which is acknowledged by everyone. Why then do we have to go on about his bonus and salary? What the hell has it got to do with us or more importantly the journalists? He is doing a good job at rebuilding one of the most failed public organisations in this country – the guy deserves a medal in my view. A bonus of £1million or £10million is completely fine with me if he brings the company back and gets the taxpayers money back from what we invested to save the company’s skin.

The journalist kept pushing on though “did he know what it was worth compared to a nurses salary?” and so he responded “I am not a politician – I am a business man here to do a commercial job”. Which is my point exactly, why do we keep asking him about his salary he didn’t pay himself it? It makes absolutely no sense at all.

Stephen Hester even waived his bonus because he felt it was the right thing to do. Personally I think we should give it to him anyway as this is all counter productive. What happens if some other organisation in the private sector sees what a fantastic job he is doing and offers him twice what he is being paid? He might look at that job and think it would be a lot less hassle too and he can get on with leading a business rather than answering totally pointless questions. If he did leave the share price would drop heavily and we would again lose money. The demand of a market dictates what someone is paid not us. I would rather pay him £2-5million a year for doing a good job than some footballer for kicking a ball around a pitch.

What do you think? Should we pay him what he is worth?

Chris Norton

Chris is listed in the world's top 30 PR bloggers and a regular conference speaker on crisis management and social media marketing. He is also co-author of Share This Too and lectures on digital communications at Leeds Metropolitan University.

6 Comments

  1. I agree that witch hunts are never pretty and invariably, no-one comes out of them positively.

    That said, I don’t believe the British public should continue to bend over and stoically continue to accept having our society degraded by selfish people and institutions. I am in a way envious of the French people’s preparedness and ability to stand up for what they believe is right and of their government for at least paying attention every now and then.

    If it’s true that Mr Hester “was not a banker before 2008″, I’d like to be a Formula 1 driver. I have no previous experience of driving a racing car but I can drive…. I understand the point you’re making here but I’m not sure it helps Mr Hester’s case.

    I totally agree that Mr Hester should not be hounded and certain ‘journalists’ need to engage their brains a little more often but the context is not as simple as a typical private company Board. The bank is effectively state owned and that means accountability. It also means that decisions need to reflect both the needs of employees, stakeholders and society at large.

    Making over 20,000 people redundant, generating consistent and significant financial losses and not paying anywhere near the level of dividend required to repay the Treasury really shouldn’t be seen as behaviour to be rewarded.

    I used to work in a bank before making my living in the charity world and our bonus model was unbelievably simple and robust. When the bank makes a profit, the staff share in it; if we don’t, there isn’t anything to share…

    What’s wrong with that?

  2. I think James Naughtie kept asking him that point because he kept avoiding it – standard interview practice, isn’t it? Amd lets face it, theu were asking him that question in the first place because ut’s a question MANY people would want to put to him.
    He said he was a businessman, not a politician, but the way he seemed unable to give a simple answer to a simple question certainly sounded politician-like to me.

    As for him waiving his bonus becuase he felt it was the right thing to do – do you think he still would have waived it, feeling it was wrong to accept it in these austere times, if there HADN’T been the public outcry there was? That he still would’ve said “No thanks, I don’t realy need it”, feeling it would be better off funding innumerable social welfare schemes/teachers/nurses salaries. Or he would have accepted it and then given it to charity? No, he would have quietly pocketed it and, if it troubled him in the slightest, he would have consoled himself thinking of the supposed “trickle-down effect”.

    Yes, he’s doing a hard job and he could go elsewhere if he wanted to and earn even more. But he’s earning silly money as it is and if he does a good job he’s got his reputation MADE as the man that saved the UK economy – He can pretty much name his price after that.

  3. @Kevin thanks for your comment. You make some good points especially the accountability one. I think the fact he wasn’t a banker is neihter here nor there really the job of a CEO is to lead a business and he is doing that well. It is a commercial job not a banking job. It just happens to be in the banking sector. I totally agree on sharing in the profits too – I think that is the right way to go.

    @GigerPunk Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it and agree with some of it. As a PR professional I thought he did a brilliant job of answering the questions because ultimately his salary has nothing to do with you or I. So why should he answer that. People don’t tend to talk about salaries. His employers shouldn’t have paid him that if he wasn’t of worth it should they? Why don’t we ask how much everyone is worth if that is the case – its pointless. I think he is worth it as he is doing a good job at turning it around. With reference to his bonus – it is his bonus for doing his job well. I think the fact he waived it, was because of the outcry as you say, but I just hope it doesn’t put him off now and we end up losing a very good businessman to the private sector. After all you pay peanuts and you get monkeys!

  4. Nonono, you pay *peanuts*, you bet *nurses*.
    That’s how it works, isn’t it?

    (Also, is it really NOTHING to do with you or I? Who is it who’s paying his salary exactly? Us or the bank? Who owns the bank?)

  5. I think the nurses issue is totally seperate but if we do look at that as an example – how much is the CEO of the NHS paid then? I imagine it is more than £25K a year. It is not a fair comparison – they are not similar jobs.

    The bank is owned predonminetly by the Government but what would you do then pay him £40K a year and hope for the best. Then the person you hire fails the bank goes bust and we lose billions all over a £1million bonus for someone doing a good job. It is ridiculous – pay the man what he is worth. The CEO of Barclays for instance gets almost double what he is paid.

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