GONE: the chief executive and the old board; GONE: the imperial swagger. And now about to go, says SCOT-BUZZ EDITOR BILL JAMIESON, is the opulent “executive wing” where former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Fred Goodwin plotted global domination.
News that this exclusive wing, with its cavernous rooms, Pantone 281 colour scheme, noise-hushing carpets and jaunty paintings of Mediterranean village scenes is to be converted into a hub for Scottish entrepreneurs and businesses is arguably the best to emerge since Kiwi Ross McEwan took over the reins in 2013.
Eighty entrepreneurs will be given free office space, Wi-Fi and access to RBS staff and business mentors. It will work in the company of staff from organisations including Entrepreneurial Scotland, Business Gateway and Prince’s Trust Scotland, which helps disadvantaged young people.
The move follows the conversion of the first floor of the bank’s previous headquarters in St Andrews Square from a dumping ground of discarded office furniture into a ‘Desk Union’ for start-up businesses and young entrepreneurs. The change, prominently highlighted in Scot Buzz last year was overseen by the bank’s Scottish chairman, Ken Barclay.
Now, in a highly symbolic move, RBS is clearing out the last vestiges of the ancien regime and given over the Gogarburn executive wing once reserved for Goodwin and his lieutenants into a business accelerator hub.
Instead of the corporate opulence, Entrepreneurial Spark, a not-for-profit company, will offer free support.
The sprawling, £335 million Gogarburn complex with its “Welcome to Fredinburgh” walkway bridge over the main road into the city from the airport was opened in 2005 as a state-of-the-art headquarters befitting a global banking behemoth.
It boasted a thoroughfare of shops, offices, meeting areas and coffee bars while security staff guarded the staircase approach to the executive wing – complete with Goodwin’s controversial seafood kitchen.
RBS went to great lengths to keep press and media attention at bay. It didn’t want to be compared with the budget-busting Scottish parliament at Holyrood which became a national scandal.
But the building, on the site of a former psychiatric institution, was open barely two years before the reckless bid for ABN Amro and the global financial tsunami that followed is now widely seen as a monument to Goodwin’s hubris. RBS required a £48 billion government rescue.
It all seemed a far cry from the core purpose of business banking – supporting business, large and small.
And such support has to be about more than maintaining lending support in tough times as well as when confidence is riding high.
British banking as long been in need of a deep cultural shake-up, reflecting the upsurge in business start-ups and enterprise and the changing composition of Britain’s business base.
Only this long overdue change will help banks to reconnect with the needs of businesses and the communities they serve, and enable trust to be restored in banking.
That is what this change so important. Chief executive Ross McEwan says the move “marks a step change in how we can work with partners to support our local economy”.
It should also inject a sense of purpose and mission within Gogarburn itself.
With the dramatic scaling down of RBS activities, the retrenchment from more than 30 countries to 18, the selling down of its interest in US bank Citizens and the traumatic downsizing of its investment banking operations, many wondered whether the bank would retain Gogarburn at all. Left unchanged while functions and staff were shorn, it faced becoming a mausoleum of excess, its best – and short – days well behind it.
RBS badly needs to push this change – and be seen to be doing do.
That is what makes this initiative more than symbolic. It has to rebuild bridges after widespread criticism over its treatment of small businesses.
Some 270 small firms that claimed to have been destroyed by the bank’s ‘turnaround’ division Global Restructuring Group is intent on taking RBS to court.
The space offered to Entrepreneurial Spark and the support work for young Scottish businesses is clearly an attempt to demonstrate not just a slimmed down bank but one with a changed culture and focus. As such, it is hugely welcome.