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Former HBOS CEO Andy Hornby back at the top with the Restaurant Group as charmed business life continues

James Moore

Andy Hornby has been bouncing around boardrooms like one of LeBron James’s basketballs since banking group HBOS hit the rocks while he was on court running the thing.

He’s been boss of Boots, had a spell at Coral, and is currently co-chief operating officer of the gambling firm GVC Holdings, which owns the bookie and may itself soon be looking for a new leader.

Hornby looks to have ruled himself out of the running by joining the Restaurant Group (TRG), which today installed him as CEO on an eye-popping package that could net him up to £4m in his first year. Imagine what seeing that must feel like to people working long hours for little reward waiting on the group’s customers.

It will be the first time Hornby has run a publicly quoted company since HBOS.

Memories of that debacle, and the part he played in it, haven’t entirely faded.

“Restaurant Group appoints a real banker as CEO. A banging of plates please for Andy Hornby, who made a real dog’s dinner as HBOS boss,” tweeted Mr Contrarian in response. An apt summation of the state of affairs.

There are those who argue that James Crosby was chiefly responsible for the bank’s fall – it was ultimately rescued by Lloyds which later had to be bailed out as a result – and with some justification. But Hornby didn’t deviate much from the latter’s disastrous strategy when he took the thing on.

Given the pain caused by HBOS’s demise, it shouldn’t be surprising that the way he has subsequently moved from big job to big job leaves a very bitter taste.

There is a feeling that the gilded company of executives that runs corporate Britain closed ranks behind one of their own.

Hornby was one of the bright young things of British business when he took control of HBOS at the callow age of 39. He joined the bank from Asda, where he had been a protege of Archie Norman.

A man of considerable personal charm, his defenders claim that the alumnus of Cambridge and Harvard is also blessed with a business brain few can match. He is, they declare, a “talent” and it would be wrong for that to be squandered based on the events of more than a decade ago.

We’re about to find out how true that is. Hornby is taking on a company facing considerable challenges, operating in a sector that also faces considerable challenges. TRG operates more than 650 pubs and restaurants across the UK. Its brands include Chiquito, Garfunkel’s, Coast to Coast, Frankie & Benny’s, Brunning & Price and Food & Fuel along with Wagamama, controversially taken over five months ago in the face of considerable resistance from a sizeable corps of the company’s shareholders.

It won’t be an easy ride making a success of the deal. But its architect, Andy McCue, stepped down in February citing “extenuating personal circumstances”.

If you’re Andy Hornby, there’s no reason to feel too much concern. There’ll probably be another big job around the corner if it all turns sour.