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From steel town to Standard Life Aberdeen – who is SLA's new boss?

Standard Life Aberdeen’s chief executive in waiting Stephen Bird grew up in Motherwell, a town once dominated by its blue steelworks cooling towers.

The industry would loom large over the early years of his career as he left to work for British Steel in Wales. His work brought him into contact with Japanese car makers which led to him focussing on the automotive industry during his MBA which he completed at Cardiff university in 1995.

The following year he became director of operations for GE Capital, building partnerships with the car industry.

In October 1998, Bird joined Citigroup as regional head of transaction services in Singapore and within months became the bank’s regional head there. In 2001 he took up a similar role based in Florida, overseeing Citigroup’s Latin American operations, before taking over as CEO of Japan Citifinancial in 2003.

In July 2008, he was appointed to share the Asia CEO role, which he took sole control of in January 2011. In July 2015, he moved to New York to become Citi’s CEO of global consumer banking, an operation with 110 million customers in the US, Mexico and Asia, retail banking, lending, wealth management and a credit card business. In 2017, he earned a $12.76 million pay package inlcuding more than $5 million in shares and $3 million in pension rights.

Last October, he stepped down “to pursue an opportunity outside our firm” and was replaced by fellow Scot Jane Fraser, a St Andrews-born Cambridge graduate who began her career with Goldman Sachs.

Bird is a keen golfer, runner and rugby fan who says one of his favourite memories of Wales was watching matches at the city’s Cardiff Arms Park. During his time as CEO in Asia, he helped raised money for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis  ( ALS ), also known as Lou Gehrig’s  disease, by taking the ice bucket challenge in a video posted on Facebook.

Bird, who is on the books of an agency that lists speakers for hire, has listed the three great trends of the modern world as ” globalisation, urbanisation and digitisation”. He says one of his career achievements in Asia was creating a banking service that can “serve the full spectrum of a customer’s needs; borrow, spend, save, invest and protect”.

He joins Standard Life Aberdeen after a period of transition in which the company has refocused on asset management. Last year it sold the old Standard Life insurance business to Phoenix Group for more than £3 billion, through SLA retains a 20% stake in Phoenix.

A former Citigroup colleague once described Bird as someone who “reads a lot” and is “one of the most astute businessmen I have seen”.

Published in Insider -