Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How Hester Avoided the Pitfalls at British Land; Wise Moves: Hester Did Not Overborrow When Everyone Was Keen to Lend or Split the Business in Half When He Was at British Land

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How Hester Avoided the Pitfalls at British Land; Wise Moves: Hester Did Not Overborrow When Everyone Was Keen to Lend or Split the Business in Half When He Was at British Land

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER BILL

STEPHEN Hester's four-year tenure as chief executive of British Land ends on Friday 14 November. On Monday 17 November the imperturbable 47-year-old becomes chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland and gets to sit in the chair vacated by Sir Fred Goodwin.

So what will Hester will do at RBS? Those seeking clues will naturally take an interest in how the former head of Abbey house-cleaned this rather dusty property company during three years of boom and one year of bust.

Actually, what Hester didn't do is more interesting. But before coming to that, it is worth allowing the man to speak of the things that he did do after joining Britain's second-largest, and by far oldest, property company in late 2004.

"It is fair to say British Land has been comprehensively modernised. A whole new generation of people have been brought on. We have turned from a business that buys things and sits on them into one of the most active property companies in the market." Indeed. The ageing board has gone, replaced with some very bright young contenders for Hester's job. The HQ has been shifted from a sepulchral Regent's Park terrace house to a bustling modern office block near Marble Arch.

The second thing Hester did was throw open the doors and windows. "I think our whole presentation to the outside world has changed. Our level of disclosure has got us considerable support and we now have the most international share register of any property company." Indeed. The amount of financial information disclosed on the British Land website will make directors of RBS blanch. Happily for them, most of what's posted is impenetrable to all but bankers. Hester also did what the man he is replacing at RBS never did: foster good relations with the media. This wasn't something that Hester's predecessor at British Land was much interested in either. But what Sir John Ritblat left was a house in very good order indeed.

Plain John Ritblat lifted the 152-yearold company from obscurity in 1970 to a position of solid dominance by 2004..

Over 34 years Sir John, who was knighted in 2006, built British Land into a formidable business with ? …

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