Andy Hornby lands a top job at bookies

HE FAMOUSLY apologised for the failure of banking giant HBOS and later quit as boss of high street chain Boots because of stress.

But Andy Hornby is the chief executive who never knows when he's beaten.

The one-time Harvard high-flyer who was brought down to earth in the banking crisis is back in another top job: this time heading the bookmaker chain Coral.

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Some will argue that Hornby is a sure-fire winner who understands how to bounce back from defeat. Whatever the circumstances, he seems to follow every setback with another top performance.

He joined Gala Coral Group on Monday as chief executive with the job of reviving the bookmaking arm of the gambling company. He will take control over 1,670 shops as well as online and telephone betting services.

There have been reports that Mr Hornby would lead a management buy-out of the group, since denied, but market- watchers will be observing how long he lasts.

He was said to have been devastated by the collapse of HBOS in 2008, and those who had followed his career from middle management at Blue Circle and Asda to the top of one of Britain's biggest banks were alarmed at how his boyish good looks had given way to a gaunt, sallow-skinned ghost of a man.

But within nine months the smile was back when Alliance Boots offered him a chance to revive his career. Critics considered his return to be too hasty, with the fires of the banking crisis still burning and a lot of people left to suffer the consequences of the mistakes made by the bank bosses. Many believed they should pay a higher penalty for greed and incompetence, even to the point of being barred from ever again entering a British boardroom.

As such, Mr Hornby's re- emergence at the top of one of the country's best-known companies was ranked as one of the biggest business comebacks in living memory. While his contemporaries in the banking crisis struggled to get any sort of position, he emerged as the proverbial Teflon man to whom the full impact of the crisis just would not stick.

And with his career back on track - and still in his mid-40s - he appeared to have seized this second chance to put the events of the previous year behind him.

But he shocked the City when he quit Boots after less than two years in charge, stating that he needed to step back from corporate life. Executive chairman Stefano Pessina later said that Mr Hornby was stressed and required a break.

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At the time the company said he would not receive a pay-off but the annual report revealed another stroke of good fortune. He received a 450,000 cheque to stop him joining a rival healthcare group.He was already the highest paid member of the Alliance Boots' board, with a pay package of 2.4 million which included 750,000 of bonuses, plus bene-fits and pension supplements.

Some might view Andy Hornby's resilience as fate. Shortly after he joined Halifax from Asda in 1999 he told an interviewer that he would be surprised if in ten to 15 years' time he was not "running something big".

He was not made to wait long. In 2006 he was appointed chief executive of HBOS, and banking industry commentators and City analysts eagerly welcomed the wunderkind of the corporate world, the man who'd been top of his class of 800 while at Harvard. One admiring analyst wrote in a City circular: "Andy Hornby is a superstar."

But critics claim he was found out at HBOS and even when the going was good he could not shake off the tag of being more of a retailer rather than a banker.

He took over at HBOS with its shares at an all-time high. We all know what happened next.

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