Chief executive officer, HBOS PLC
Born: March 14, 1956.
Education: Attended Brasenose College, Oxford, 1977–1980.
Family: Married; children: three.
Career: Scottish Amicable, 1977–1983, fund manager; 1983–1994, investment director and head of overseas equities; Halifax Building Society, 1994–1996, managing director; Halifax PLC, 1996–1998, director of financial services and insurance; HBOS PLC, 1998–, CEO.
Address: P.O. Box 5, The Mound, Edinburgh EH1 1YZ, Scotland; http://www.hbosplc.com.
■ James R. Crosby attended the Lancaster Royal Grammar School from 1967 to 1974 and studied mathematics at Bransenose College, Oxford, from 1977 to 1980. While at college he worked at Scottish Amicable, a life-insurance company in Glasgow. This educational background and work experience allowed Crosby to become a fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries in 1980. In 1994 he was employed by Halifax Building Society as a managing director and in 1996 became the financial services and insurance director of Halifax. In 1998 he was selected for the post of chief executive officer of HBOS. Although his appointment was initially viewed in neither a positive nor a negative light by the business community in the United Kingdom, many later came to appreciate his creative talents in strategically positioning HBOS to become a leader in the financial sector. In July 2003, HBOS was ranked as the top firm in European financial sales, with revenues of 30.3 billion euros.
An actuary by training, Crosby applied his considerable skills of persuasion and sound business judgment in acquiring various financial corporations to create a corporate empire that began with Halifax and, with the 2001 merger with the Bank of Scotland, became HBOS. Crosby was a rich, self-made man and an astute, tireless business leader. He was also very well connected socially and, in recognition of his excellent business skills, was asked to join various committees and boards in UK's elite business world. A family man, he was as comfortable helping his wife give birth to one of their children as he was at mediating major business deals, takeovers, and marketing promotions for HBOS.
Crosby was hired at Halifax to set up the life insurance arm of the mortgage bank. His successes at Halifax included the acquisition in 1996 of Clerical Medical, a mutual insurer. According to the Times , "James Crosby, the virtually unknown insider, who will ascend into Mr. Blackburn's role, is said to have won his spurs during that acquisition" (London; October 23, 1998). He also successfully battled General Electric to acquire Equitable Life in 2001. The end result of the various acquisitions and business partnerships put together by Crosby transformed Halifax from a successful mortgage bank into a leading financial-services firm with a diversified portfolio that included life insurance, mortgages, and other financial products.
Crosby followed these impressive acquisitions with the defining achievement of his helm, the 2001 merger of Halifax with the Bank of Scotland to create HBOS. This merger created one of the top four banking conglomerates in the United Kingdom. Its chief competitors in the UK included the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, and JP Morgan Fleming.
Europe Intelligence Wire reported in October 2002 that HBOS was in financial trouble, due to some bad loans. The bad loans tarnished the bank's credibility but did not reduce the business influence of its chief executive. For example, in late October 2002 the Financial Services Authority (FSA) appointed Crosby to its panel. According to the Financial Adviser , "the practitioner panel was established in November 1998, comprising senior figures from a cross-section of the financial services industry, to provide a high-level body available for consultation on policy by the FSA and able to communicate views and concerns of the regulated industries to the FSA." Also in November 1998 Crosby was appointed as non–executive director of Granada. Granada is the UK's biggest commercial television broadcaster.
In a matter of a few years, Crosby rose from relative obscurity in the UK's financial world to become one of its wealthiest and most successful bankers. The merger between Halifax and the Bank of Scotland that created HBOS enabled the new corporation to access the mortgage and retail banking markets, respectively, as these were the markets in which the two initial companies were competing in before the merger. Because HBOS gained access to two markets, revenue could be generated from sales across both markets. Cross-selling and also portfolio diversification, or the ability to rely on a variety of products for revenue generation, became emblematic of the way HBOS conducted business after the merger.
Crosby's successes through the years, at HBOS and elsewhere, were due to his strong and well-developed leadership style. He was an energetic and ambitious man. His actuarial background kept him focused on the numbers side of the business, but his successful deal-making skills showed him to be a man of vision, energy, and social acumen. As Jill Treanor reported in the Guardian Unlimited, "Crosby is a bundle of energy as he rushes into an ultramodern meeting room…. He refuses to admit fatigue after arduous talks to clinch the purchase of a mutual insurer [Equitable Life] almost very other potential bidder has refused to touch."
Energy, persistence, and intelligence can be sufficient for success, but vision is the added ingredient that can propel a leader and his company to great heights. Even as he apologized to customers over the disruption caused during the merger of the Bank of Scotland and Halifax, Crosby's vision for the future was clearly evident. "We are in the course of achieving a significant extension of the reach and presence of Bank of Scotland as a financial services and business brand in the UK," he remarked (BBC News/Scotland).
Crosby had a strong commitment to customer relations. He criticized other banks, especially the major competitors of HBOS, for taking their customers for granted by offering low interest rates for customer accounts. HBOS was itself criticized for its treatment of its own customers, but this did not diminish Crosby's focus on the needs of his customers and his understanding that the success of HBOS depended on creating and maintaining a strong and loyal customer base.
"FSA Rearranges Industry Panel," Financial Adviser , October 31, 2002.
"HBOS Boss Apologizes to Customers," BBC News/Scotland. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/scotland/3392217.stm .
"HBOS's Crosby Named Director of UK Finance Watchdog," Reuters, http://uk.biz.yahoo.com/031218/80/ehdvp.html .
Hosking, Patrick, "HBOS Admits to Losses through Lending to Splits," European Intelligence Wire , October 7, 2002.
"James Crosby, CEO, HBOS Leads an HRH The Prince of Wales's Seeing Is Believing Visit in Leeds," Business in the Community, http://www.bitc.org.uk/news/news_directory/260603sibnews.html .
Merrell, Caroline, "Halifax Takes the Banking Revolution to Heart," Times (London), March 24, 2001.
Miles, Richard, "Blackburn To End 16 Years in Halifax Hot Seat," Times (London), October 23, 1998.
Treanor, Jill, "Actuarial Artistry: James Crosby, Chief Executive, Halifax," Guardian Unlimited , http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,3604,435999,00.html .
—Anastasis D. Petrou