António Horta-Osório: the tennis ace who saved Lloyds Bank

António Horta-Osório was determined to rescue Britain’s largest high-street bank from disaster, and he succeeded, if at the cost of his own health. Can he repeat the trick at stricken Credit Suisse?

Asked to identify the high point of his career to date, António Horta-Osório pinpoints an afternoon in May 2017 when he got a call from a Treasury official saying: “António, we’ve sold the final shares”. After eight long years, Lloyds Bank was finally fully re-privatised. He called a staff conference and said: “‘We did it. We gave the taxpayers’ money back. And it’s a great tribute to you’. We made a toast. It was a really good moment.” 

Sleepless in the City

Whatever else he accomplishes now that he is off to Credit Suisse, the suave Portuguese banker will always be remembered in Britain as the man who brought Lloyds back from the brink, says the Financial Times – famously at a cost to his own health. Horta-Osório faced a big job rebuilding the broken bank after the banking crisis, but the real test came within months of his 2011 appointment when the eurozone crisis threatened to freeze funding markets again. “I could see the bank might die,” said Horta-Osório – and it stopped him sleeping. “I took it really to heart as my responsibility to save it.” Diagnosed with stress-induced exhaustion, he was sent to the Priory clinic to recover. 

Horta-Osório, 57, traces his sense of duty back to his early years in a Jesuit school in Lisbon. “I have been educated to help others, serve others. [It is] a moral obligation.” But he balances his high-mindedness with a “brute competitiveness” inherited from his father, a champion table-tennis player. Tennis has always loomed large in Horta-Osório’s life. A measure of his determination is that when he broke his wrist at 30 and was told he’d never play again, “he promptly taught himself to play left-handed”, says the London Evening Standard. 

Horta-Osório enjoyed a professional education at INSEAD and Harvard Business School and took his first job at Citibank Portugal, says The Guardian, later joining Goldman Sachs. Arriving at Santander in 1993, he was rapidly promoted by the bank’s revered chair, Emilio Botín, running the Spanish bank’s Brazilian arm before being parachuted into the UK in 2006 to unite a series of building societies under the Santander banner. 

In the years that followed, Horta-Osório “became a pillar of the British establishment as few foreign bankers have”, says the FT. Granted a plum role at the Bank of England, he’s a regular tennis player at that “sporting icon of the ruling class”, Queen’s Club in Kensington, and chair of the Wallace Collection of fine art. He’s even achieved the distinction of having his private life raked over by the tabloids. True, he didn’t endear himself to fellow bank bosses when he “broke ranks” over PPI mis-selling and compensation (thereby saddling Lloyds with a £22bn bill); and the bank he bequeaths is considered “dowdy” by some. But at least Britain’s largest high-street bank “looks safe and well-run”.

A new broom at Credit Suisse

No wonder the bankers of Zurich can’t wait to hire him, says The Times. After some of the most turbulent years in its history, Horta-Osório is set to become the first ever Credit Suisse chairman from outside the Swiss establishment. When appointed in December, the bank was reeling from an extraordinary row over a corporate spying scandal and allegations of racism. Since then, it’s been clobbered reputationally and financially by embroilment in the Greensill and Archegos scandals. Doubtless, Horta-Osório will “find a way to embed himself in Swiss society” as effectively as he has in Britain – and he insists he feels none of the dread that plagued him a decade ago. But according to an ex-Credit Suisser, he needs to brace himself. “This is like nothing he’s ever dealt with before. Lloyds was easy by contrast.” 

Recommended

When investors get over-excited, it’s time to worry – but we’re not there yet
Sponsored

When investors get over-excited, it’s time to worry – but we’re not there yet

When investors are pouring money into markets, it can be a warning sign of impending disaster, writes Max King. So how are fund flows looking right no…
26 Oct 2021
An investment trust that gives exposure to frontier markets
Investment trusts

An investment trust that gives exposure to frontier markets

An investment trust investing in small, illiquid emerging markets has disappointed, but deserves another chance, says Max King
26 Oct 2021
What does Rishi Sunak have in store for investors this Wednesday?
Budget

What does Rishi Sunak have in store for investors this Wednesday?

Rishi Sunak is unveiling his spending plans for the economy this week. John Stepek analyses areas which may be most hit by the budget.
25 Oct 2021
How rising interest rates could hurt big tech stocks
Tech stocks

How rising interest rates could hurt big tech stocks

Low interest rates have helped the biggest companies to entrench their positions. But what if rates rise?
25 Oct 2021

Most Popular

Properties for sale for around £1m
Houses for sale

Properties for sale for around £1m

From a stone-built farmhouse in the Snowdonia National Park, to a Victorian terraced house close to London’s Regent’s Canal, eight of the best propert…
15 Oct 2021
How to invest as we move to a hydrogen economy
Energy

How to invest as we move to a hydrogen economy

The government has started to roll out its plans for switching us over from fossil fuels to hydrogen and renewable energy. Should investors buy in? St…
8 Oct 2021
Emerging markets: the Brics never lived up to their promise – but is now the time to buy?
Emerging markets

Emerging markets: the Brics never lived up to their promise – but is now the time to buy?

Twenty years ago hopes were high for Brazil, Russia, India and China – the “Brics” emerging-market economies. But only China has beaten expectations. …
18 Oct 2021