Former Asda marketing man takes up reins at the Yorkshire

THE marketing man who made Sharon Osbourne the face of Asda has been given the top job at Britain’s second biggest building society.

Yorkshire Building Society yesterday announced that Chris Pilling, the head of branch network at HSBC, will become its new chief executive.

Mr Pilling, who has worked for some of the biggest names in retailing, will join the Bradford-based society on December 31 2011.

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He will take over from the current chief executive, Iain Cornish, who announced his intention to step down in February this year.

Mr Pilling began his career with Procter & Gamble as a brand manager before taking on roles at Kraft as Middle East and Africa group brand manager.

He later became general manager for marketing in the UK and Ireland for British Airways.

In 2000, he was hired by Telewest as director of marketing before moving to Leeds-based Asda as marketing and customer service director.

In 2006, Mr Pilling joined HSBC as chief executive of First Direct, the Leeds-based telephone and internet-based retail bank. Earlier this year, he became HSBC’s head of branch network.

He is married with two children and lives in Harrogate.

Ed Anderson, the chairman of Yorkshire Building Society, said yesterday: “Chris Pilling is an excellent appointment for Yorkshire Building Society.

“The Yorkshire is one of the UK’s strongest financial institutions and recent merger and acquisition activity has further strengthened its position.

“Chris’s outstanding track record and his wealth of skills and experience in delivering exceptional customer services in the retail financial services sector will prove invaluable in equipping him to lead the society forward and build on the position we have established.

“Yorkshire Building Society’s culture is based on teamwork and Chris joins an extremely strong leadership team which has done an impressive job in leading the society through an exceptionally demanding period.

“I would especially like to thank Iain for his tremendous contribution to the society’s success and wish him well for the future.”

In a statement, Mr Pilling said yesterday: “I am delighted to be joining Yorkshire Building Society at an exciting time in its history. The society has a long-held reputation for delivering outstanding value and excellent service to its members.

“It is clear to me that its success is based on its mutual status, combined with its financial strength and great commitment from its staff.

“The Yorkshire has a tremendous opportunity to build on its status as an independent building society to provide a real and trusted alternative to the banks and I am very much looking forward to being a part of that.”

Mr Pilling was unavailable for interview yesterday.

During his five years at Asda, Mr Pilling and his team took the bold step of hiring Sharon Osbourne, the wife of rock star Ozzy Osbourne, as the face of Asda, hailing her as a “strong woman and a real-life mum”.

At the time, it helped Asda to cling on to the number two spot in the supermarket stakes, fending off a strong challenge from a resurgent Sainsbury’s.

During his five-year tenure, Asda achieved its highest ever customer satisfaction score.

During an interview for a Yorkshire Post profile in 2006, Mr Pilling said: “My job was to consolidate the momentum that was already happening. The Archie Norman and Allan Leighton era had already imported the best practices from Wal-Mart (Asda’s US-based owners). There was a very fast-paced, ‘can do, will do’ philosophy.”

It was Asda which persuaded him to move from London to Yorkshire in 2001.

“The quality of life was the driver,” he recalled. “There’s always the push and pull.

“The push factors were the traffic and expense. When you have kids, suddenly all the things you love London for become relegated, and all the things you hate about London become very obvious.”

Mr Cornish said yesterday: “I am delighted that Chris is joining the society. Over the past eight years, it has been a privilege to serve as chief executive. It has been a pleasure to have worked with an outstanding leadership team who have worked hard to ensure the society is very strongly positioned for the future.

“I am sure that Chris, together with his colleagues, will lead the society to future continued success.”