Alumni Profile - David Roberts (MBA, 1989), Chairman, Nationwide Building Society

5 February 2016

Alumni Profile - David Roberts (MBA, 1989), Chairman, Nationwide Building Society

Alumnus David Roberts talks to Henley Business School about his personal leadership journey.

Alumnus David Roberts talks about his personal leadership journey, which has seen him progress from graduate scheme to senior management at Barclays, to lead Austria’s second largest retail bank, before taking up a range of non-executive positions, most significantly as Chairman of Nationwide Building Society, the world largest building society.

In this short profile, we chart David’s career and introduce some of the factors that influence and inform his leadership style.

David grew up outside of Liverpool, the only son of Welsh father and Liverpudlian mother. David’s parents were immensely supportive and he was lucky enough to go to the local grammar school. Although he enjoyed school, he does not describe himself as a ‘natural’ academic. The real influence on his life was sport – that is where he learnt his competitive instincts, his drive and his determination to succeed, and his desire to always be the best he could be.

A talented hammer thrower, competing at all levels from local club to becoming a Welsh international, David, while at the University of Birmingham became captain of the university athletics team. His competitive instincts came to the fore. Not only did he lead the team to beat their arch rivals, Loughborough, to win the British University’s Athletic Championships, his team also hosted a track and field tour for Harvard and Yale athletes. This is where David says he initially learnt the art of leading people, as well as where his sense of fairness and integrity was heightened.

Having graduated from Birmingham with a maths degree, David joined Barclays on their graduate training programme, where his talent was spotted and he had the opportunity to develop his leadership skills further by taking the Henley MBA. Henley’s focus on personal development and ethical business practices aligned squarely with his own values and helped David to deal with the wide range of both business and ethical challenges that the banking sector threw at him over the next three decades.

David crafted his career while at Barclays and during his 23 years became known for his ability to manage large scale complex projects, his capacity to drive real and sustainable culture change and his focus on the customer. He held a wide range of senior management positions including Chief Executive, International Retail and Commercial Banking; CEO Private Clients International; CEO, Personal Financial Services; and CEO Business Banking, charged with all of Barclays’ SME business across Europe and the UK.

In 2006, having moved on from Barclays, David took on the challenge of running the second largest retail bank in Austria, BAWAG P.S.K. AG, which had gone through some very difficult times. As chairman and chief executive, he stabilised and re-energised the bank, rebuilding the business over a two-and-a-half year period. Today the bank is run by a team that he recruited and developed, including the current CEO – a testament to his ability to create sustainable businesses.

Over the next four and a half years, David had the opportunity to take on a number of non-executive positions. At ABSA (one of South Africa's largest financial services groups) he helped frame its contribution to socio-economic transformation of South Africa and, probably most notably, at Lloyds Banking Group following the financial crisis David became Deputy Chairman and Chairman of the Board Risk Committee.

Today, David has a number of professional roles: he is the Deputy Chairman of NHS England – which he describes as a remarkable organisation tackling complex challenges; a non-executive director at Campion Willcocks – a small executive search firm for the finance industry; and, most significantly, in 2014 he joined Nationwide and became Chairman in 2015, the world's largest building society and second largest saving provider in the UK to over 15 million customers.

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