Leeds Building Society boss Hill looks back on his career

editorial image
Have your say

During his time at the helm of Leeds Building Society, Peter Hill has overseen a period in which it has trebled profitability, doubled its assets and received numerous accolades for its record as an employer.

However the plans for how he was to achieve all of this came from a simple series of notes scribbled on the inside cover of a book he was reading on holiday.

But the peaks have been the opportunity to get involved in things that have shaped our industry but also helped to support the things that really matter to real people.

Peter Hill

From his sun bed, Mr Hill fleshed out his plan in the cover jacket of The Art of the Long View by Peter Schwartz.

It was not until last summer, having announced he was stepping down from the firm he has led since 2011, when he finally showed these plans to anyone.

“I really did not want to show that,” he tells The Yorkshire Post as he flicks through the book.

“I didn’t want to become a hostage to fortune.”

The handwritten note sets a series of goals he wanted Leeds Building Society to achieve by 2021.

These included doubling the size of the society, doubling profitability, improving customer experience and making Leeds Building Society a better place to work.

“We ended up trebling profitability, doubled assets, we set sights on Best Companies two star accreditation which we got in the Autumn and used customer experience measures that made excellent progress.

“For me, it was always about building on what we had got, with great foundations and 130 years in business, but also creating something that was still strongly financially successful, that was a great place to work and did its members proud.

“I saw that we had achieved those ambitions which is what I felt now was the right time for me to go.”

During his time the society has grown its staffing by 444 and in 2016 he was named Business Leader of the Year at The Yorkshire Post’s Excellence in Business Awards.

However, when he is asked for his highlights, his thoughts turn to a bigger picture of the firm and the sector at large, rather than his own journey,

Mr Hill participated in discussion at Downing Street that eventually led to the Help to Buy scheme being launched, a programme which has helped thousands of young people on to the property ladder.

“There have been peaks and troughs,” he said,

“But the peaks have been the opportunity to get involved in things that have shaped our industry but also helped to support the things that really matter to real people.”

Another big moment came when Prudential Regulation Authority handed the society the permission to calculate its own capital requirements.

“Rather than using the standard formula we can use the detailed insight we have on our loan book to work out how much capital we need and then the regulator either says yes or no,” said Mr Hill.

“It gives us more firepower and opportunity to grow further.”

It has not all been smooth sailing for Mr Hill.

He was given a rude awakening on only his second full day in the role when he received a call from one of the ratings agencies to say the society had been downgraded. “That was a bad start,” he says.

“The truth was that our rating was very strong and out of line with the sector. It was a conversation that had been going on for quite a while in terms of it being something that might happen, so it was not a total shock. But it was very inconvenient timing.”

Mr Hill has worked in Leeds since 1997 and says the city is “unrecognisable” from the place he first moved to.

He said: “I think the bigger picture in terms of how the urban landscape has changed in the UK is that there is an emergence of mega hubs and you can really see that Leeds has emerged as a mega hub.

“The prospects are very bright for the city and I have to give credit to the council, businesses and communities that have driven that change over the last 25 years.

“It is a fantastic success story and we need to be better at telling it.”

The financial sector is one undergoing rapid change but Mr Hill said he feels the building society sector at large is more than capable of thriving,

“You can be successful where there is a high level of innovation without having super deep pockets,” he said.

“You just have to be creative.”

Peter Hill, only the seventh person to hold the CEO role at the society, will formally step down from the firm where he has worked since 2001 on February 26 before “handing my pass back” on March 8, his last official day.

He hands over the chief executive baton to his deputy Richard Fearon.

Mr Hill said: “Richard is a very talented guy. He gets what we are trying to do and he has got the capability to move things on to the next level. I think he has got a great plan. If you could be a shareholder in Leeds Building Society then I absolutely would invest.”

Mr Hill will now take on a series of non-executive roles and looks back on a career that began from essentially a stop-gap position.

“I started working in 1979 at a local branch of a bank near the corner of the street that I lived on.

“I thought ‘this will be interesting while I figure out what I am going to do’.

“Forty years later it has actually turned out alright really.”