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Scott Bell

Amid the intensifying battle over Standard Life&#39s mutual status, group

managing director Scott Bell regrets that he has been able to devote less

time than usual to playing golf.

However, he blames the recent rise in his handicap to 16 on old age rather

than anything to do with his carpetbagging thorn in the side, Fred

Woollard.

Having spent his entire career at Standard Life, it is hardly surprising

that Bell is a staunch defender of mutuality, believing it represents the

best structure for a company even in the 21st Century.

But with his retirement pending in a couple of years, wouldn&#39t

demutualisation ensure a nice nest egg for his retirement? He says: “I have

always believed very strongly that mutuality represents the best structure

as it allows the benefits to be passed down from generation to generation

without the costs incurred by a plc.

“Without these costs, we are able to invest more money in equities, which

is one of the main factors behind the consistently better returns we offer

compared with our plc rivals.”

So convinced is Bell of the benefits of mutuality that he will not even

countenance the prospect of the carpetbaggers winning. Even if Woollard &

Co secure most of the votes cast, demutualisation will only be considered

if the carpetbaggers achieve the 75 per cent majority needed under Standard

Life&#39s rules.

He says: “Despite Woollard&#39s protestations, he is not interested in the

welfare of the company, he is just interested in himself. I am very

encouraged by the way all our staff have got together to fight the battle.”

Bell believes the biggest obstacle he must overcome is voter apathy. “My

biggest challenge is to make people vote. We want a large turnout as, the

more votes cast, the more chance we have of winning.”

If the unthinkable were to happen, Bell says it would be up to him to make

sure that Standard Life remained independent after conversion to a plc. But

industry insiders suggest, if Standard does lose, Bell would take it as a

personal insult and probably look to step down and enjoy his ret-irement

two years earlier than expected.

Bell is the epitome of the one-company man, having spent his 34-year

working life entirely at Standard Life.

His long relationship with the mutual began in 1966 when he went straight

from Daniel Stewart&#39s College in Edinburgh to become an assistant actuary.

In 1967, he was transferred to Standard Life&#39s Montreal-based offshoot in

the same role. The move was to trigger a long association with Canada which

is still in evidence today, with Bell fulfilling the role of Honorary

Canadian Consul to Scotland.

According to Bell, the role is more ceremonial than anything, with him

occasionally representing Canada&#39s interests in Scotland. The more

day-to-day duties are carried out by his assistant, who helps Canadians

with any troubles they may encounter while staying North of the border.

Bell returned to Standard Life&#39s Edinburgh headquarters in 1970, becoming

deputy actuary for four years. He then moved to London to take up the

position of regional manager until 1979, when he was summoned back to HQ to

become general manager (finance).

Promotion to group managing director followed in 1988. Yet Bell is very

modest about his rise through the ranks. “It has had more to do with luck

and being in the right place at the right time than anything else.”

Despite holding such a high-profile role in Scotland&#39s biggest life

office, he has remained pretty anonymous outside company circles since his

appointment. Only the recent challenge to Standard Life&#39s mutual status has

made Bell emerge into the sort of limelight such an eminent position would

normally bring.

However, he remains shy of the media, creating the impression of a very

private man not at ease when questioned on anything but the corporate side

of his life.

Questions about his private life are given short shrift, with Bell openly

admitting that he would rather concentrate conversation on his business

role and the implications of the demutualisation threat.

What is public knowledge about Bell is that he is married with two sons

and a daughter, and he likes a bit of golf.

In fact, it appears he actually likes more than a bit of golf if the list

of the clubs to which he belongs is anything to go by. Among those listed

are the Royal & Ancient, the New Club Edinburgh and the Honourable Company

of Edinburgh Golfers.

Whatever the outcome of Standard&#39s fight to preserve its mutual status,

one thing is certain. Bell is a very shrewd businessman responsible for

forging one of the most formidable forces in today&#39s life and pension

market. It would be a crying shame if he were to become a victim of the

very success he has created at Standard Life.

The industry needs an alternative model to rival the plcs. So let us hope

that Bell is not improving his golf handicap until at least two years time.

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