Fearsome Sir Fred turns friendly

Royal Bank of Scotland has unveiled a secret weapon in its battle to win control of ABN Amro – Sir Fred Goodwin, RBS’s chief executive, in his new guise as a friendly and non-aggressive corporate raider.

Sir Fred, who has built a fearsome reputation based on his ability to make acquisitions and cut costs, said before his annual meeting in Edinburgh that he and the other members of their consortium – Santander and Fortis – were keen to open talks with ABN Amro.

He said: “It is our preference to try to find an agreed, constructive way through all of this, and we hope by working with ABN Amro we can be able to do this, because this offer represents excellent value for their shareholders and for ours: the best value on offer to shareholders.”

Asked if he had the appetite to go hostile with the offer if ABN Amro did not respond positively to the consortium’s approach, Sir Fred said that was a hypothetical situation “and I’m anxious not to rush that”.

Sir Fred also played own the idea he might make a separate approach for LaSalle, the US bank that ABN Amro has agreed to sell to Bank of America for $21bn.

LaSalle is RBS’s main target, though it is also interested in the Dutch group’s wholesale bank and Asian businesses.

“The consortium is bidding for the whole of ABN Amro and RBS is an integral part of the consortium ... The consortium is in, and stands together,” he said.

However, Sir Fred confirmed that whether the agreed sale of LaSalle could be unpicked was “one of the key issues”.

He declined to give details of how any offer would be financed, but said: “Most people would think we are good for it – we’ve got the cash.”

RBS has eschewed acquisitions for organic growth during the past two years, after shareholders expressed concern that it was overly reliant on deals for growth.

Asked whether shareholders might see this as a return to his old ways, Sir Fred said that was not how analysts and shareholders appeared to be reading the situation.

For a man known for being extremely driven and focused, Sir Fred struck an unusually philosophical note about RBS’s intentions.

“We don’t need to do this. We were not in the market for acquisitions. It would be nice to own LaSalle, it would be nice to own some of the other bits. But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen,” he said.

No questions were asked at the subsequent annual meeting about ABN Amro, though a controversial new executive share option scheme was opposed by22 per cent of shareholders.

Some institutions had complained that the scheme gave the remuneration committee too much discretion in setting targets.

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