Skipton Building Society chief executive and Building Societies Association chairman John Goodfellow says he has never applied for a job.
“My career path has been the opposite of what is now the norm. I walked into a job centre when I left school and ended up as a cashier on a youth training scheme at the Burnley Building Society. I have only had two jobs in my life. Pretty boring, really.”
It sounds as if his career just fell into his lap. Twenty-one years at the Burnley were followed by a move to Skipton Building Society, which concluded in him becoming chief executive when his predecessor Terry Adams died.
His ambition – along with injecting a bit of humour into financial services – is to make a difference. “I think we spend too much time discussing regulation and not enough time looking at where we are going. But I suppose this is only natural given that it is the bane of all our lives.”
Goodfellow has helped to give Skipton, the UK's seventh-biggest building society, a reputation for being innovative and acquisitive. It has 18 subsidiary companies, half of which it started up while the other half were acquired. The most recent acquisition was Royal & Sun Alliance's estate-agency business Sequence, which Skipton bought through its estate-agency subsidiary Connells.
Goodfellow hopes this will help to increase Skipton's mortgage distribution capability. The acquisition gives Connells a combined total of almost 500 branches, making it the second-biggest estate agency chain in the country. “This was a real opportunity for us to take on a strong brand and it will give us mortgage distribution, which we are trying to bulk up what with the onset of regulation.”
Describing his acquisition stategy, he says: “We buy things cheaply, then we can get rid of them if they do not work out. I believe there are a great number of high-class companies run by owner-managers who would benefit from being part of a financial services group.”
Turning to one of the areas in which Skipton is showing its innovative spirit, Goodfellow describes how it is looking to offer Islamic mortgages – an area tipped for growth since Chancellor Gordon Brown scrapped dual stamp duty in the last Budget. “I really believe we should be doing Islamic mortgages given our location. Skipton is 12 miles from Bradford.”
It is against Islamic law to receive or pay interest, which puts the average mortgage out of the reach of strict Muslims. HSBC entered the market in July with a scheme which buys the property outright and leases it back to the client over an agreed term. But Goodfellow does not think it is fair that a Muslim has to be a tenant until they have made their last payment.
As a mutual, he believes that Skipton can approach the problem in a different way. “The interest on the mortgage could be a membership fee for the building society, which would be equivalent to a one-year fixed-rate mortgage as the fee could be set at a certain level. This would mean that a Muslim could own the property from day one.”
Skipton has not set a date set for launching its Islamic mortgage but Goodfellow says: “We have actually worked through a product. The challenge now is to get it to the Islamic community. The model should not be about making someone rich, it should be about placing Muslims in the same position as the rest of us.”
Goodfellow is made impatient by incompetence and particularly by a lack of preparation. His pet issue at the moment is the “mad” way in which endowment misselling payouts are being handled. “I think that payouts on endowment misselling claims should go directly into the claimant's mortgage, otherwise the claimant is highly likely to spend the money on something else and come back in future years with another claim.
“The FSA should be saying that the only basis on which they will pay out on an endowment claim is if the money goes into the mortgage shortfall. It is mad to pay compensation to correct the problem and not ensure that the money is actually being used to correct the problem. Pension claims always go directly into the pension and so endowment claims should go directly into the mortgage.”
A topic dogging the building society industry is consolidation, with many predicting a flurry of mergers following the recent joining together of the Portman and Staffordshire societies. Goodfellow is not so sure, however.
“Mutuals tend to take a medium to long-term view. Since the 1900s, building societies have disappeared at the rate of two a year. In 10 years time, this would mean that we will have 20 fewer mutuals. I suppose this is consolidation but it is nothing new.”
Away from work, Goodfellow says most of his time is taken up by his three sons and daughter. Goodfellow admits that he is wrapped round the finger of his three-year-old girl and his eyes light up when he mentions her. He is clearly a family man, spending Sunday mornings playing rugby with his eight-year-old son.
Born: January 1947.
Education: Left school at 18.
Career: 1964- started out at Burnley Building Society, where he moved between branches in Glasgow; 1967 – became a programmer; 1980 – became head of IT; 1984 – joined Skipton Building Society as head of IT; 1991 – became chief executive when predecessor Terry Adams died; May 2003 – elected as BSA chairman.
Career ambition: “To make a difference, to improve things.”
Life ambition: “To see my three-year-old married off to some other poor sucker.”
Likes: “Places where I can smoke, people with ideas and opinions who are prepared to work hard to make them happen.”
Dislikes: Meetings that are too long, people who come not having prepared and read the papers.
Car: Mercedes S430 for work, BMW X5 as a family car.