Even Alliance Boots chairman Stefano Pessina, who appointed Hornby, is aware that it's a controversial decision, telling Sky News that before making the decision he "had many, many conversations with him, because I was aware of a potential problem, of course."
In light of all that, how is it possible that someone like Hornby has resurrected his career, while other former high-flying members of the banking industry have been unable to shake the pariah tag? Here are four things that have worked in Hornby's favor, and that other execs may do well to learn from, should they ever find themselves in similar circumstances.
1) He's not Fred Goodwin
This is an advantage that's not to be underestimated. Much as Dick Fuld became the poster-child for the excesses of Wall Street, so Goodwin (known to the UK tabloid media as "Fred the Shred") bore the brunt of the public outrage over the collapse in the City. Hornby's actions also spoke volumes: while Goodwin was negotiating a bumper pension from Royal Bank of Scotland even as the government was preparing to seize it, Hornby eschewed his usual bonus, saving not a little face - and media scrutiny - in the process.
2) He kept a low profile
Another crucial difference between the two men is that Hornby never tried to control the media cycle. While Goodwin tried to defend himself and justify the payouts he had negotiated, Hornby remained silent - perhaps the only thing to do when the media is in full lynch-mob mindset.
3) He expressed regret
OK, so not many can get away with turning around and saying "sorry about that £11 billion loss last year," but it seemed to work for Hornby. It certainly seemed to impress Stefano Pessina, who told Retail Week that "he understands he has made some mistakes and was more than sorry. He has paid for it. You cannot put people in a ghetto because they’ve made a mistake."
4) He has other experience—and is moving on to a different industry
Hornby spent years working his way up to the top spot at UK supermarket chain Asda, and has a strong background in the retail world. In his Retail Week interview, Pessina admitted that it was this background that had attracted Alliance Boots: “We haven’t hired him for his banking experience. We want his retail and particularly his management experience.” Presumably the firm is also banking on Hornby to be hungry to redeem himself.
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Phil Stott is a staff writer at Vault.com in New York. Originally from Scotland, he has also lived and worked in Japan, South Korea and Eastern Europe. He holds an MA in English Literature and Modern History, and a Masters in Research in Civil Engineering, both from the University of Dundee.