Diverted Boulton makes safe landing at Nationwide

James BoultonJames Boulton, the ex-HSBC marketing director and brother of Sky TV presenter, Adam, has finally landed at Nationwide after a bizarre mini-Odyssey involving British Airways.

In circumstances still not entirely clear, Boulton seems to have quit HSBC at the beginning of the year in the belief that he had a job in the bag – a good one too – at BA as global marketing director, following in the footsteps of Tiffany Hall.

Only to discover that he did not. Having led him up the garden path, BA either withdrew the offer or halted the process. Boulton had been applying for a job that would no longer exist, due to a management “rationalisation”…

It’s another example of just how ruthless companies have become in slashing key personnel once they are deemed too expensive. Equally unsettling was Cadbury’s recent decision to get rid of its European president, Tamara Minick-Scokalo, only six months after elevating her from group commercial director.

Boulton may not have got the CMO role he was evidently looking for after HSBC declined to expand his duties (I note his successor, Brendan Cook, has been given additional responsibilities – product development and research). But he could have done a lot worse than end up at Nationwide.

In effect, he takes over the high-profile position occupied for many years by Peter Gandolfi, although the title, like much else, is different. Plenty has changed at Nationwide under the leadership of Graham Beale, including most of the key personnel. That’s only to be expected. The sleepy mega-mutual is well positioned (unlike almost any other financial services organisation) to benefit from the Credit Crunch. Big mutuals – friendly, conservative and, above all, reliable (it says in the script) – are back in fashion. And since Nationwide is by far and away the best branded and biggest – at over half the sector’s capitalisation –  it should be able to exploit this new mood much better than anyone else.

Beale has, perhaps justifiably, been whingeing about the ridiculous capital ratios (money kept back as security) being imposed on his organisation (given it is not particularly reliant on the wholesale money market, exposure to which has been a major cause of vulnerability). I notice this has not prevented Nationwide from launching an eye-catching 125% mortgage aimed at attracting people in negative equity who want to move.

Boulton, with his packaged goods skills acquired at Unilever and PepsiCo, has a promising canvas to work on.

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