Profile: Jayne Anne Gadhia

IN THE male-dominated world of banking, there's no doubt that Jayne Anne Gadhia stands out among the grey suits. The ambitious chief executive of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Money group is a striking 6ft 2in blonde with a no-nonsense Midlands accent.

She isn't one to stay in the background – she's been dubbed by some as "the big bossy blonde". Her aim, with the full support of Branson, is for Virgin Money to become a major brand name on the UK high street. She is grasping the timely opportunity to capitalise on the fall from grace of industry stalwarts, notably Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS.

That aspiration moved a step closer on Friday when Virgin announced it was spending 50 million buying up a tiny regional bank, Church House Trust. The deal values the private client bank, based in the west of England, at about 12.3m. Virgin is injecting an additional 37.3m of new capital into the operation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Although relatively small, the bank will allow Branson's consumer credit arm to obtain the licence needed to sell savings and mortgage products.

It is a massive move forward for Gadhia and Branson, who have already created hundreds of jobs in Edinburgh to run the growing business.

But 48-year-old Gadhia is not a life-long banker – it's her love of celebrity that got her involved with Branson's financial services arm in the first place.

She was passing time on a train journey reading Hello! magazine and came across an interview with Virgin's founder. "He had so much passion and energy that it got me thinking about how great it would be to work for him," she has said.

A friend introduced her to an executive who was setting up Virgin's financial services arm and she managed to break into Branson's empire to launch Virgin Direct. Her big success was the Virgin One mortgage, one of the UK's first home loans that could be offset against a current account. Her career has since been on a steady upwards trajectory.

However, for a time, she broke away from the Branson fold in a move that took her to Edinburgh, the city she still calls home.

Virgin One was sold to RBS in 2001 for 100m and Gadhia was part of the package. She joined the bank to run its mortgage operations and re-located to Scotland with her husband.

While she was initially among Sir Fred Goodwin's chosen few, it is thought that she later fell from favour . She resigned after five years and returned to Virgin Money in 2007 to be greeted with "welcome home" messages from Branson. Society gossips said Goodwin felt piqued that Gadhia's multi-million-pound home in the exclusive Grange area of the capital, just one street away from his own, was larger than his.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

While at RBS, Gadhia would have had no qualms about standing her ground with Goodwin. One of her top dislikes is "people who aren't straight and open" and she has described her leadership style as "collective but decisive".

She is open about the fact she learned from Goodwin during her stint at RBS and this was one of the factors behind her decision to go after Northern Rock.

In September 2007 she was watching television coverage of people queuing to withdraw their savings – the first run on a British bank for 150 years – and had an idea which would instantly make her one of the highest-profile players in the business world.

She picked up the phone and said to Branson: "Why don't we go for it?" He told her to put it in an e-mail and later replied: "Absolutely, we should be looking at this."

Gadhia later revealed: "When I was at RBS, we always looked with interest at Northern Rock… when the Northern Rock crisis hit, I thought that if Sir Fred Goodwin was me, then he would probably try to do something about it."

She spearheaded a consortium bid for Northern Rock, but the failed bank was nationalised in February 2008. Had Virgin's bid succeeded, Gadhia was poised to become the boss of the merged group and Northern Rock would have been re-branded as Virgin.

Some commentators said the bid had all the hallmarks of a populist and daring "Branson sting", but it was Gadhia who led the charge. On 4 January the state-owned bank was officially split into two and Virgin is one of the suitors reportedly lining up to take over the "good" part of the bank, which includes its savings and mortgage customers.

But Gadhia likes things to move quickly and sources said Northern Rock could take too long for her liking. One said: "We can't rely on something like that. We need to move under our own steam."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It is thought she was not willing to hang about and wanted to stay ahead of other entrants trying to break into the market, including respected Panmure Gordon analyst Sandy Chen and Metro Bank.

Her impatience would help explain Virgin's decision to snap up little-known Church House last week.

Gadhia is not known for going after the easy option. She could have stayed at RBS where, despite being a senior executive, her role would have been less high-powered and perhaps easier to combine with being a mother.

She has said: "But then I would have got to 60 and regretted it. To grow old, thinking you should have done something else really doesn't bear thinking about."

Unlike others in the business world who have balanced family with a busy career, Gadhia does not claim to be a "superwoman".

She had her only child, daughter Amy, at the age of 40 and has admitted it has not always been easy. "It's the emotional tear of wanting to be a great mum and continue to do a first-class job, which I am determined to do. That bit has been really tough."

Having a husband who gave up his job as a tax accountant when their daughter was born has undoubtedly helped. "I couldn't possibly be doing this if he wasn't at home, being as supportive as he is," she said.


BORN in Sawbridge in the West Midlands, Jayne Anne Gadhia gained a degree in history from Royal Holloway College in London before training to be a chartered accountant with Ernst &Young.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In 1987 she was appointed managing director of Norwich Union's unit trust business and, within 12 months, sales had risen by 300 per cent.

In March 1994, a mis-selling scandal hit Norwich Union. Gadhia negotiated with the regulators and emerged with flying colours.

In 1994 she joined the Virgin group to launch Virgin Direct, its financial services arm.

She moved to Edinburgh to join Royal Bank of Scotland in 2001.

She resigned from RBS in 2006 and joined Virgin Money in 2007.