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Alexander Crombie

Alexander “Sandy” Crombie does not so much toe the Standard Life corporate line as exude it from every pore.

The deputy group chief executive ran straight from school into the arms of the Edinburgh-based mutual at the tender age of 17. Last week marked his 36th anniversary there.

To the outsider, it is a marriage that looks rock solid and Crombie has the air of a man who is comfortable in his relationship. It would take more than carpetbagger Fred Woollard to put this particular union asunder.

Crombie only needed to cross the Firth of Forth for the nuptials as he went to school in Buckhaven, a small coastal town in Fife. The same school, he points out, as the disgraced former First Secretary for Scotland Henry McLeish although he admits he did not have much to do with McLeish at school. “He was a football man at school and I was more rugby,” he explains. And never the twain shall meet.

From being a prop and the captain of Buckhaven&#39s 1st XV, Crombie&#39s youthful enthusiasm for the sport has turned into a middle-aged cynicism. “I&#39m still a member of a club but it is really just for the tickets. I can barely even watch a full game these days without wanting to switch the telly off.”

While acknowledging it is a cliche, Crombie believes you can learn a lot about life through rugby – in particular, the need to be able to rely on your team mates. He says he has brought the skills learned on the rugby pitch at Buckhaven to Lothian Road and Standard. Wherever possible, he gives those under him responsibility so they can function as an integral part of the team. “I often use a rugby analogy to emphasise what teamwork is about and how not working as a team can leave you exposed. Everyone in the company has a job to do and everyone else relies on them doing it.”

Crombie is like a proud father talking about his high-achieving offspring when discussing Standard Life and how it has grown. “In the past, we had lessons to learn about communicating with our customers but we are now well ahead of many other organisations on that front. The service awards we win year after year prove that. We have created genuine leading-edge customer services,” he says.

Far from being your archetypal rugby enthusiast, Crombie is a quiet, pensive man pausing after each question so he can word his response just right.

To describe him as softly spoken – a description often used for industry figures who stand out from their peers by simply not shouting the loudest – does not do justice to his “menacing silences” and unflappable demeanour.

By his own admission, Crombie does not shout, does not get angry and does not lose his rag but you get the impression that the 53-year-old Scot is telling the truth. If you doubted it, his colleagues back him up.

He attributes his own quiet manner to his parents. “Sometimes when I whisper, people tell me to stop shouting,” he quips.

“If you go in all guns blazing and throw a wobbly it just lets people off the hook. You have to keep yourself under control. It should be enough to let the other person know they have disappointed you.”

So is it enough to let the likes of insurance analyst Ned Cazalet know that you are disappointed with his assertion, widely covered in the national press, that Standard&#39s financial strength is weakened because of its unchanging asset allocation?

There is a split second when the irritation cannot be disguised but Crombie shifts in his seat to straighten himself up, having slouched a little into easy chitchat mode, and answers with only the slightest hint of a defensive tone in his voice.

“Everything that is modern is not necessarily better. I think Standard is pretty well balanced. It has a solid culture that works. Some may call it staid or old fashioned but it is founded on values and values do not change quickly.

“We can come across as being arrogant but only because we do not jump on the latest fad bandwagon. We have the luxury as a mutual of being able to take the long-term view.”

You get the impression that this is not the first time he has had to justify Standard&#39s singular stance on equities.

So if Cazalet and accusations of arrogance do not tip him over the edge what does – surely something can shatter the calm facade? When pushed, the father of two grown-up daughters admits he is “selective” with his temper but only ever raises his voice at home. “I can shout at the girls but never at work.”

The Standard man is so happy with his company&#39s “unique customer servicing proposition” and its future that he believes he will be seeing out his days on Lothian Road. “I once worked alongside a headhunter to recruit some senior staff and the headhunter&#39s reaction to anyone over 40 was that they were unemployable. So I suppose I&#39m here till the end.”

The news will come as no surprise to the rest of the financial services community in Edinburgh as the word on the street there is that Crombie is simply biding his time until current chief executive Iain Lumsden steps down in four years time.

Born: February 1949, Leslie in Fife

Age: 53

Lives: Dalkeith with wife

Education: Buckhaven School

Career to date: Standard Life from the age of 17 to present

Career ambition: “I want to still be enjoying what I&#39m doing until I stop working.”

Life ambition: “To live long enough to enjoy retirement.”

Likes: Honesty

Dislikes: “Don&#39t really dislike much, but politics annoy me. Can&#39t stand it when they can&#39t be straight.”

Peers say: “Many people were genuinely surprised that he didn&#39t get the top job.”

Car: BMW 7 series and “a Fiesta for teaching my daughter to drive”.

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