Interview: New SFE chairman is just the man to burnish finance's tarnished image

NO-ONE is yet certain what will arise from the scorched remains in Edinburgh after the global financial crisis has died down.

Throughout, Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE), under the able chairmanship of John Campbell and the chariness of chief executive Owen Kelly, has maintained a certain stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. But as one industry insider put it: "Never has there been a more important time to have a strong-minded chairman."

This week, Mark Tennant was unveiled as the new chair of the body that represents Scotland's financial services industry. And what a time to take that on. And what a character to take it on, too.

A bagpipe-playing old Etonian with a stately pile outside of Elgin, there is no doubt Tennant is a well-kent face and in all the places that seem to matter.

His financial services career spans Edinburgh, Hong Kong, New York, London and Europe. It also spans a wide range of career varieties – starting out handling the money of the wealthiest of the wealthy, he also launched Chase Manhattan's global custody division – a sort of back office for the billions held by the global asset management industry.

When JP Morgan took over Chase, Tennant became that bank's senior vice-president, as head of strategic planning for Europe and Asia, and he is still a senior adviser.

For the past 12 years Tennant has also been behind one of the industry's "must attend events", held at Gleneagles annually.

Although the event for the UK and global financial services industry has a relatively low public profile, in industry circles it is essential for companies, senior civil servants, government regulators and academics.

Tennant has also dabbled in politics. A former treasurer for the Scottish Conservatives, after he initially launched a small global custody office for Chase in Edinburgh in the early 1990s, for a few years Tennant worked part-time in order to – unsuccessfully – run for office.

Standing against a young Gordon Brown, he did not have high expectations. He famously quipped: "If I win I shall demand a recount."

Political career stalled, he headed to New York.

Like many in the industry, Angela Knight, the chief executive of the British Bankers Association, sees the appointment as a timely one.

"You want somebody who is around, who knows people, who has worked in lots of different areas – kind of part of the circuit, who gives the access and the credibility that any organisation like SFE needs," says Knight. "You will find he will bring profile to Scotland in the right sort of ways."

Those "right ways" also extend beyond the financial world. Tennant is even more establishment than his CV suggests.

He is also the scion of one of Scotland's most established families. His father was Sir Iain Tennant, the chairman of Grampian Television and Lord Lieutenant of Moray. A benefactor of the Gordonstoun school, Sir Iain often welcomed the famous establishment's students to his 17th century stately home, Innes House, including a young Prince of Wales who was a distant relation.

Tennant is also a cousin of former Guinness chairman and City grandee Sir Anthony Tennant. Another cousin, Colin Tennant – Lord Glenconner to you and me – bought the Grenadine island of Mustique in the 1950s for 45,000. The Tennant family's wealth derives from Mark's direct ancestor, Charles Tennant, a friend of Robbie Burns and the inventor of bleach, who established the chemical works at St Rollox.

Tennant and his wife Hermione reside in Innes House – although there are homes in Edinburgh and London – and were one of the first stately home owners to open their pile up for weddings and corporate events.

Tennant is the eldest of three. His brother Christopher, who ran a successful aviation business, died in 2003. His sister Emma Cheape was at the heart of a society scandal when she married publishing heir Sir Jocelyn Stevens, for whom he abandoned his long-term partner, Selfridges heiress Dame Vivien Duffield.

Despite Sir Iain's ties to Gordonstoun, Mark went to Eton. He also followed his father into the Scots Guards where his family had a record of distinguished service – Sir Iain was captured at the surrender of Tobruk, while his grandfather John wrote a stirring memoir of the First World War, Clouds Above Bagdhad. Tennant's connections meant his first foray into industry was working for Hambros, the bank owned by the family of Jocelyn Hambro, which kept a Highland home nearby to Innes House.

But what Tennant must now focus on is Scotland's financial services industry and most have high hopes he is the man for the job.

The BBA's Knight admits the scale of the problem facing Scotland: "We all having a fairly torrid time of it. Both of the banks that got into real trouble in the UK had Scotland in their name."

Most suggest Tennant is not backwards in coming forwards. SFE's Kelly agrees. "I think that is right. He will try to lead thinking," he says. "So that is something we can all get behind."

Knight recalls organising a recent City of London Burns' supper where Tennant acted as the charity auctioneer. "He is entertaining, he's knowledgeable. He is a bit of raconteur," says Knight.

She adds: "This is a man of very broad interests. And one who has got no qualms about saying his piece and putting his head over the parapet and sprinkling a little stardust around, which is actually quite useful I think."

Bryan Johnston of Bell Lawrie – where Tennant was chairman – points out: "He used to be my boss" – and cited his skill as a motivator. "He is also very good for interpersonal skills. I think he will be an excellent conduit between the financial world and our political masters."

The work will be tough – which considering the chairmanship is unpaid means Tennant will be "giving back" to the industry.

According to Kelly, over the next six to nine months the EU is where the urgent business for SFE is, as regulators and competition authorities make up the new rules by which financial services companies must play by. According to Kelly the "old Anglo Saxon model is coming under attack".

"And let's be honest there are many voices in the EU who seek to blame the UK for what has happened. Therefore we need to redouble our efforts," says Kelly.

RISE THROUGH THE RANKS

ETON educated Mark Edward Tennant served for seven years in the Scots Guards before spending ten years with Hambros Bank, the last three as managing director of its Far East operation based in Hong Kong.

In 1983 he was marketing director of Fidelity's Erisa operations and managing director of UK Pension Funds and in 1986 Tennant became a director of Hill Samuel. In this role, he served as chairman of Bell Lawrie White & Co.

He spent 13 years with Chase Manhattan Bank (latterly JP Morgan), opening the Edinburgh office of Chase in 1991 and then moving to New York as head of strategy and finance for the custody division. In 1996, Tennant returned to London where until September 2004 he was head of strategic planning for Europe and Asia.

Tennant, 62, is currently a senior adviser to JP Morgan and chairman of management consultancy Bluerock. He is married with three children and lives in Elgin.