Standard Life's new chief executive Sandy Crombie is an oasis of calm, sitting serenely in the eye of the media hurricane currently whirling around him.
The son of a paper mill worker, who went to work for Standard straight out of school at 17, Crombie now finds himself heading up Europe's biggest mutual insurer.
“When you have been somewhere for 37 years, it becomes more than a job, it is very much a way of life. It is a privilege to be asked to lead such an organisation. It is very powerful, very strong,” he says.
News that Standard may demutualise has come as a shock to the industry, particularly after it so vigorously defended its mutual status in the face of two carpetbagging attempts in the last four years but Crombie says the board has never been “religiously associated” with mutual status.
“The board strongly feels that the set of conditions that appear to be emerging look different. It does not hold to a mantra that mutuality is the only condition. If it had a mantra, it is that whatever condition we are in has to be appropriate to the time.”
So what happened to its belief that mutuality was in the best interests of its policyholders? Crombie tries to point out that while Standard has been a mutual since 1925, it was previously a plc – well, the 1925 version of a plc, he says.
“What it says is that Standard Life has put itself into what it considered to be the proper condition to suit the condition of the time.”
Crombie admits it is a rough time to be taking over as chief executive but he is ever the optimist. “I have seen easier times but I think these are difficult times for the industry. I have been saying to audiences that, having been in this industry for 37 years, I have never seen more difficult times. And, in truth, there have been many casualties in recent years.”
However, he says Standard remains robust and insists that maximum opportunities exist at times of maximum challenge.
Crombie joined Standard to do actuarial studies and qualified in that field. “I suppose in some sense people recognised that I was somebody who was always saying there must be a better way of doing this and they put me into the IT side where I spent quite a number of year developing systems.”
Some in the industry describe Crombie as popping up out of nowhere to head up Standard Life Investments and now the group, drawing parallels with previous Scottish Widows head Mike Ross, who also appeared out of IT.
Some believe that Crombie would have been a better choice for chief executive when his predecessor Iain Lumsden was installed around two years ago and describe Crombie as feeling hurt when he did not get the role. Opinions of him in the industry range from “nice guy” to “tough cookie”.
Now Crombie is at the helm, he has some mighty challenges to face. He describes the upcoming strategic review as a “health check”, saying Standard needs to ask whether it is in the right form for the emerging conditions, particularly as with-profits policyholders start to form an ever decreasing proportion of its business.
Crombie admits that making decisions will require a lot of “buy in” from staff and members but he is resolute and says he wants to see the company better understood than it has been in the past. “We have been accused of being aloof and arrogant. That is not an accusation I would like for the future so I think we need a wide audience to understand where we think we are going and hopefully back it. Beyond that, my ambition would be to be as effective as the best in our industry.”
He describes his personal ambition as having the chance to see his stewardship of Standard through the five years to his retirement and to be still enjoying it to the day he retires.
After that, he hopes to have the time to enjoy travelling. “I would like to explore more of this beautiful world in which we live in a more relaxed way and have the health of myself and my family to enjoy it with.”
How does such a high-profile chief executive relax? Are there luxurious days of pleasure, leisurely chasing a small white ball around a golf course?
“I go home. Relaxation time has been at a premium recently but occasionally I get a game of golf. More often than not, my free time is just spent at home with the family. There is no time for much else at the moment, I'm afraid.”
Born: February 1949, in Leslie, Fife
Lives: Dalkeith with wife
Education: Buckhaven School
Career to date: Standard Life from the age 17 to present
Career ambition: “It is five years to my retirement. If I am allowed to see that through, that would be great. If I was still enjoying it to the day I retire, that would be fantastic.”
Life ambition: “I would like to explore more of this beautiful world in which we live in a more relaxed way and have the health of myself and my family to enjoy it with.”
Dislikes: “Don't really dislike much but politics annoys me. Can't stand it when they can't be straight.”
Car: BMW 7 series and a Fiesta.