HSBC Chief Executive for Scotland: Alison McGregor


diversity & inclusion; the key to success

Variety may be the spice of life but for Alison McGregor, HSBC’s CEO for Scotland, it’s diversity and inclusion that’s the key to success. Born in the west of Scotland, Alison left school and went straight into banking and embarked on a lifelong journey of practical and academic learning.

Alison’s first senior role was as a Relationship Director managing a portfolio of large, Scottish, corporate businesses and from there she went on to become head of Corporate and Commercial Banking and Deputy Managing Director of Scotland.

After 20 years she took the opportunity to manage a bigger business at the National Australia Group – again still in Scotland but with a view to taking on a UK-wide business. Working in Scotland is great but I wanted to look at how I could operate in the rest of the UK. I then became the UK Corporate Director and I was headhunted by HSBC for the role of Corporate Director, UK North which covers Scotland, North West England, Yorkshire and the Midlands. One of the things that attracted me to HSBC is the global nature of the business , where that could take me personally but also the toolbox it gave me for servicing corporate clients and helping them achieve their objectives. I wasn’t long in the role when I was asked to take on the CEO role in Scotland, combining it with the role I already had.

I was excited about this role for a couple of reasons. HSBC employs a significant number of people in Scotland (3,300) and deals with a diverse range of businesses. Secondly, the banking environment has changed so much over the last five to six years and to come into this role at a time when business and people confidence was fairly low, and play a part in the growth of Scotland was a great opportunity. My ambitions for Scotland are pretty much aligned with the ambitions of Scottish business people in continuing to employ people in Scotland, supporting businesses who want to grow both internationally and domestically and providing support to individuals through our growing retail banking business. In 2013 over 20% of our new mortgage lending in Scotland was to first time buyers.

The CEO role is very different from managing a corporate business where you’re focused on engaging with the corporate market. This role sees me engage with a much wider stakeholder group and I suppose for the first time in my career I’m engaging with politicians, the opposition leaders and other senior stakeholders such as Lena Wilson at The Scottish Executive, SCDI, Chamber of Commerce, CBI, etc.

This interaction enables me to really understand not just what we were seeing as bankers but what constituents are telling politicians. At HSBC we’ve invested a considerable amount in our businesses and we were seeing growth in the SME market but what surprised me was the lack of confidence of SMEs and in their ability to secure bank funding. One of the things we’ve recently launched is a £300 million fund – £100 million in each of the North, the West and the East of Scotland – to support growing SME businesses. It’s not just about lending, it might be providing facilities that help businesses to export or assistance in buying new equipment. The Scottish Government has a target to grow exports by 50% by 2017. HSBC is in over 75 countries so we’re uniquely placed to support that objective.

As a result of the changes over the last five years there’s also a lot more talk about women getting to board positions in banking. At HSBC we don’t focus on women we focus on diversity and inclusion. I’d hate to think I’d get a job purely because I’m a women. For me diversity in banking is also about diversifying yourself away from a purely graduate intake. We have a successful apprenticeship scheme but are also engaged with other Scottish businesses to look at how we support vocational training and work experience for the 18-24 year olds not currently in employment.

“Diversity for me is also being diverse in age range and inclusive in the type and background of the people we employ. I’m fortunate that working at HSBC there’s a considerable amount of diversity because we’re a global business and people move around but there is still more work that can be done on building the pipeline.”

Alison’s pipeline building involves mentoring, visiting schools to explain what banking really entails and the most important part of her role – meeting customers. “I do have a lot of customer contact and attend many events. One day I’ll be meeting with one of Scotland’s PLCs and the next day I can be hosting the Rugby Sevens. Actually as a result of hosting the Rugby Sevens, I’m now going to Dumfries & Galloway to meet with four farmers but that is the job of CEO! If I don’t talk to a broad range of customers then I’m not doing my job and to be honest that’s the most interesting part of my job – being with customers.”

As CEO, Alison is also asked to do many different things for and with the external public which does have its downside. “The CEO role is incredibly diverse and I have to admit my work/life balance could be better at the moment, but that’s me not saying ‘No’, not HSBC. I’m a firm believer in the “family that eats together stays together,” so with that in mind and when I get back to my spinning classes three times a week, I’ll have the work/life balance right and the diversity!