Since joining Nationwide as COO in 2010, Tony Prestedge has witnessed enormous change. The digital revolution notwithstanding, he has implemented strategies to drive growth to the point where Nationwide is the world’s largest building society, with 15 million members in the UK. Upon originally hearing about the role, Tony could see a lot of potential—both for the business, and also for himself.

“For me there were 4 things that attracted me to the position,” he says. “The first was the culture of the organisation—to have a mutual business model where you’re answerable only to your members/customers, as well as a business that has scale, as then it’s a unique career proposition. Because, you have the scale of one of the largest retail banking institutions, with a different business model of ownership.

“The second thing was that the scale for transformation was huge. Repositioning a business from one that had been a narrowly-defined mortgage and savings business to a full-service retail banking business was a unique opportunity. The third thing that attracted me was that it was a full boardroom appointment—the opportunity to be in the boardroom in a full fiduciary sense to shape strategy and policy and also to contribute beyond the operations, technology, and transformation agenda. To be an equal at the table with the finance director, the CEO of the retail bank, and the group CEO, again is reasonably unique for a COO.

“The final thing was just the blank sheet of paper—to be able to figure out how to structure the organisation and what talent I wanted to lead it. I was given complete carte blanche to transform the parts of the business that I inherited.”

The first thing Tony looked to was transforming his team. He firmly believes that you’re only as good as the company you keep, and he says putting his team together is his greatest achievement since taking on the COO role “By a village mile!” he laughs. He also admits that it wasn’t easy. “The single biggest challenge is to hire the best possible people that you can.

I think this job is all about talent management, not about technology management. When you sit at the top of an organisation where we have 6,000 people in my division in the UK—when you’re leading that number of people, you’re no longer the chief technician or the chief transformation officer, what you are is the chief talent scout and your job is to be able to surround yourself with the best people in the marketplace. And that’s always the toughest thing—attracting the best talent that you can.”