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Secrets of my success: Vernon Hill, chairman of Metro Bank

Vernon Hill
Secrets of my success: Vernon Hill is the founder of Metro Bank: Alex Lentati

Vernon Hill discusses his career and Metro Bank, which he founded in 2010...

What do you do?

I founded Metro Bank. This is my fifth new bank from scratch. I’m not the CEO — my job was to create the model, install the model, instil the model, enforce the model and improve the model.

I’m picking new store sites, looking at marketing, looking at executives to hire… there’s a lot of big things and little things.

What do you enjoy?

It’s great building a business from scratch. What’s fun is that I get to attack the big five banks every day. We call ourselves a disruptor model and I love to disrupt.

What do the big five do badly?

They all know what they do badly. They are disliked by their customers, the press, the government. They claim we are the first new retail bank since 1840 and we see ourselves as the first real choice. My book talks about building fans. My experience is that fans join your brand, stay loyal and bring their friends.

Do people like bankers again yet?

They like us.

Will interest rates rising affect you?

When I started Commerce Bank there were 23,000 separate banks in America. When we sold out in 2007 we were the 18th-largest bank without acquiring anybody of size and we went through lots of interest-rate cycles. 100% it’s going to work.

What other business interests do you have?

I’m chairman of Petplan. We’re teaching Americans how to insure their pets. I have a real estate development business. I’m chairman of a bank in Philadelphia called Republic bank. I’m a Burger King franchisee. And I’ve got a couple more, I forgot.

My most interesting company, Seguso Vetri D’Arte, is a 600-year-old glass master in Murano, one of the Venetian islands. My wife and I invested a few years back to try to build a world-class brand.

What are your biggest challenges?

Every business has a different problem. In the fast-food business it’s the competition primarily, and the government doing something stupid is an overriding concern in everything.

What led you to where you are now?

I went to Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. Trump was at Wharton too, although I didn’t know him then. I worked in a bank before and during university. But I was not going to get rich working in a bank back then so I went into the real-estate development business.

McDonald’s was my first client and I actually drove [former chief executive] Ray Kroc around to approve some sites. And then for some reason they gave me a banking licence at the age of 26.

Was that daunting, at 26, getting your banking licence?

That’s a British question. Of course it was daunting but the American culture is, let’s just get on and do it and see what works out.

The board forced you out of Commerce bank. Was that your biggest setback?

You can say that’s a setback but it wouldn’t have happened unless I wanted it to happen. I was fighting with the government about some stuff. They turned out to be wrong but I just didn’t want to fight with them any more.

Other than that incident, it’s been great. I left, I had nothing to do for a week, then Metro started.

How was starting the business?

I started the process in early 2008. I raised £75 million and I was flying back to America with the money committed and Lehman [Brothers] collapsed and we had to start all over again. So the challenges were, could you get a bank licence, could you raise the money, could you put in an affordable modern IT system and get Brits on board with this model. Before we went public we raised £1 billion of private money, 90% American.

How do you juggle your work and home life?

My wife does the store architecture here so she’s here. Me and my wife and my dog are commuters across the Atlantic. I live on Hyde Park. I come to the office, I work on stuff.

Any tips?

When I talk to students, which feels like every hour, I say people who are stars in life understand their unique talent and match their vocation to it. I was lucky enough that I liked banking and changing it into a retail business, so I found the right path.