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It does not take a rocket scientist to run a successful building society but, if it did, Nationwide&#39s Brian Davis would be well placed.

With a PhD in rocket science, Davis is not your average building society boss. But then again, he is not your average scientific boffin either.

Having said that, as the biggest remaining mutual lender, Nationwide is also not your average building society and, under Davis&#39 guidance, has taken the pro-mutuality fight to new heights.

Not only has the society talked a good story to keep the carpetbaggers at bay, it has proved more than most that mutuality works, with cheaper mortgage rates than many of its plc rivals.

But Davis is the first to admit he is not a dyed-in-the-wool believer in mutuality, more a realist to the business opportunities presented by it.

He says: “I have nothing against plcs – after all, I worked for one for 16 years during my time at Esso. But going down the plc route is only appropriate if it is in the best interest of the customer.”

He does not believe this is currently the case, as Nationwide is proving with its interest rates. But he says he will not prevent carpetbaggers&#39 moves for a vote on demutualisation. “We never duck the issue of democracy.

This is why we have to live by our track record and have to deliver. If we do not, it will destroy us as we will be forced to demutualise.”

Despite his elevated position and string of academic qualifications, Davis comes across as a genuinely nice bloke as well as being a bit of a lad, enjoying pop music, cars, football and golf.

Having trained as a scientist, Davis admits it was never his intention to become a building society chief executive. He was awarded his doctorate in rocket fuel technology from Sheffield University and a scientific career beckoned as he joined Esso in 1970 to work on pollution control.

“I had my first introduction to the world of public relations at Esso. One day I went in and I was the bad guy working on pollution control, the next my job title changed and I was the good guy working on environmental control.”

Voluntary redundancy spelled the end of his career as a scientist in 1986.

But the computing and technology knowledge gained from Esso was to hold him in good stead as he joined Nationwide as deputy general manager (technology), despite considering a career in building societies to be boring at that time.

Management was not a new experience to him. He had previously managed and played guitar in a Beatles-style band while an undergraduate at Sussex University.

The experience obviously benefited him as Davis has risen rapidly through the ranks, becoming general manager (technology) after Nationwide&#39s merger with Anglia Building Society in 1987. He gradually expanded his IT role, achieving promotion to resource director in September 1989 and operations director in September 1992.

D avis was appointed chief executive in 1994 on the departure of Tim Melville-Ross to the Institute of Directors.

Judging by the comments of friends and rivals, he has not looked back since. They say Davis has transformed the society from an also-ran to a market leader with excellent products and service proposition for the IFA market.

With the transformation of the society, Davis is now confident enough to take on the plc big boys in their own back yard. His decision to slash Nationwide&#39s mortgage base rate has engaged lenders in a bitter battle over rates and sparked an acrimonious war of words with Halifax.

Davis has accused Halifax of making misleading statements over mortgage rate cuts which, he claims, do not compare like with like.

He has called for the Halifax to withdraw what he claims is a “false comparison and issue truly comparative information” after claims by the bank that it could save Nationwide borrowers up to £900 by switching their mortgage.

He says Nationwide will “not rip you off or cheat on you over your mortgage”, claiming it has a different philosophy to other lenders which offer short-term discounts but then claw back the money once the offer period lapses.

“Borrowers should look at the annual percentage rate instead of an up-front deal that looks good before choosing their mortgage.”

It is no coincidence that, Davis is a passionate football fan and Nationwide is one of the biggest corporate sponsors of English football, having made deals with the English national side and the football league.

Even at the age of 56, he still plays five-a-side football once a week.

Admitting to not being as quick and agile as he once was, he now plays as a defender instead of his favoured roles as either a goalkeeper or forward.

Davis is described by others as a first-class leader and a self-confident go-getter. All agree he is a man of strong principle who is not afraid to make waves.

One thing carpetbaggers can be sure of is that Davis will not go down without a fight. If Nationwide does lose its mutual status, in Davis&#39 own words “there will be no one left to champion the consumers against the plcs”.



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