Fred Goodwin obsessed about carpets while RBS burned

When Fred Goodwin was masterminding the design and building of Gogarburn, RBS’s £350 million headquarters near Edinburgh airport, he decided, inevitably, that it needed an enormous boardroom.

The Royal Bank of Scotland's Gogarburn HQ. Picture: Greg Macvean

A James Bond-style lair was duly created, featuring a vast triangular table bolted to the floor with a large carpeted space in the middle.

Goodwin then decided, once the carpet had been laid in 2005, that he would rather the board members had a giant RBS logo on the floor in the middle of the triangle to look at while they deliberated on the bank’s extraordinary growth.

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The large carpet logo was stitched in.

Only then was it realised that there was a problem.

The triangular table had a solid front, with no way through for the cleaners to get at the logo and use their vacuum on it.

Only by one cleaner standing on the boardroom table and passing over a vacuum cleaner to another could they get at it.

Even then the cleaners had to be very careful.

Goodwin absolutely hated it if the vacuuming was done against the weave of the carpet, leaving even the slightest of marks.

This was just one of the many details the then RBS chief executive was focused on obsessively when he should have been worrying about the excessive risks the bank was taking under his leadership.

It was in that boardroom that he and his colleagues decided to proceed with the disastrous takeover of the Dutch bank ABN Amro in 2007.

My recent book – Making It Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the men who blew up the British economy (published by Simon & Schuster, paperback out now) – is the story of how and why the RBS disaster unfolded.

Of course, the legacy of the near collapse continues to be very difficult for those trusting investors who lost money and for hard-working RBS staff who put their faith in a once great Scottish institution that was appallingly run.

If only Fred Goodwin had paid as much attention to the basic rules of banking as he did to the carpets at Gogarburn.

• Iain Martin is speaking at 6pm this evening at the Edinburgh West End branch of Waterstones. Call 0131 226 2666 for tickets.