Stephen Hester, Chief Executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, said it was 'uncomfortable' to work at the bailed-out bank, and suggested the government's 82% stake in the bank was slowing down its recovery.
Hester also hit back at the 'commentariat' of politicians, media and commentators whose outcry forced him to waive his near £1m annual bonus, saying his motivation for staying on at RBS was to 'prove the critics wrong'.
'No company has had a greater kicking or is subject to greater hostility from the commentariat ... It is uncomfortable to work at RBS. One of the biggest rewards of returning the business to health will be the richly deserved sense of respect and accomplishment it can restore among staff'.
Speaking at the Manchester Business School, Hester said he had 'underestimated how intense, critical and long lasting" the spotlight would be on the bailed-out bank and implied that the £45bn of taxpayer cash poured into the bank to save it from collapse was now hindering its return to financial health.: "Governments are not good long term owners of complex international businesses. The ownership can cause political controversy of itself, and create pressures that hinder the progress of the subject company'.
There were two years of 'heavy lifting, significant clean up costs and vulnerability to outside events' left at RBS, he said. Hester is three years into a five year recovery plan and said his belief that the company can be turned around 'has been tested but remains intact'. He added that the day when RBS can resume paying shareholder dividends and drive up its share price was 'steadily approaching'.
In a speech designed to position RBS as integral to British community life, he said bankers were not 'masters of the universe' - a reference to a phrase in Tom Wolfe's novel Bonfire of the Vanities which became much quoted during the credit crunch – but 'servants of our customers'.
Just as RBS became a 'poster child' for banking excess during the boom years, Hester said the day when the government can sell its shares in the company will be a symbol of the UK's economic recovery.
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