John Cranage looks into the latest appointment to the West Bromwich Building Society board
Restructuring of the loss-making West Bromwich Building Society’s board of directors has been completed with the appointment of a new chairman.
Succeeding Brian Woods-Scawen after six years is Mark Nicholls, a senior City of London figure with wide experience of the financial services sector.
Described by the West Brom as a “strategic thinker with excellent leaderships skills and an ability to get the best out of people”, 60-year-old Mr Nicholls is a former main board director of investment bank Warburg and was later managing director of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s private equity business.
He has experience of the building society through non-executive roles with the Portman and the Nationwide.
He has stepped down from Nationwide following his appointment to the West Brom board, but holds a number of other non-executive posts and is a member of a number of public bodies, including the National Lottery Fair Share Fund. Mr Nicholls trained as a solicitor and has an MBA from City University in London.
Mr Woods-Scawen announced at the West Brom’s stormy annual meeting in July that he would stand down as chairman once a successor had been identified. West Brom chief executive Robert Sharpe said: “I can think of no one who fits the requirements of chairman better.
“His reputation speaks for itself with a lifetime spent working for major UK and international plc companies where his renowned leadership qualities, awareness of the risks facing the financial services industry and strategic outlook have won him many admirers.
“This, together with his experience of the building society sector, means Mark will provide a significant contribution to the future direction of the Society.”
Paying tribute to Mr Woods-Scawen, Mr Sharpe said: “Brian has been a key part of the West Brom since first joining the Board in 2004.
“In that time, the economy has seen the deepest financial crisis in living memory.
“Brian was immensely important in helping to steer the West Brom through those difficulties to a situation where we are now strongly placed as the leading regionally-based building society in the Black Country and Birmingham.”
The 160-year-old mutual has had a rough ride since incurring losses of £39.3 million in 2008 after a decade of constant growth.
Amid fears that it would have to bailed out by the taxpayer or by another institution, it was able to maintain its independence with a ground-breaking debt-for-equity swap. This saw West Brom bonds with a market value of £182.5 million converted into a new type of instrument called a profit participating deferred share (PPDS).
Without the debt-holders’ agreement to the swap, the society could have gone the same way as a number of other mutuals whose balance sheets were wrecked by toxic commercial loans.
The West Brom board came under attack from angry members at the July AGM after it emerged that previous chief executive Stephen Karle had left with a golden handshake totalling £520,000, a record for a building society.
Mr Sharpe promised action to restore what he called the West Brom’s “tainted” and “tarnished” image and to boost its presence in the centre of Birmingham, although some of its current 47 branches may be at risk under a cost-cutting programme.
Since the AGM the board has been strengthened by the appointment of former Coventry BS chief executive Martin Ritchley and financial services professional Richard Sommers to the board.