Michael Geoghegan

John Gapper

One way of viewing the explosive argument in the HSBC boardroom that has led to the departure of Michael Geoghegan as chief executive is purely as a personality clash between him and John Thornton, the former Goldman banker who might have been appointed as chairman.

The other is as the latest round in a very long tussle between Hong Kong and London over who should be in charge of HSBC. Confusingly, both sides of the argument are represented by white middle-aged men since Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was a British colonial institution.

(A further way of looking at this, incidentally, is as the Scots versus the English, given that HSBC was at its heart Scottish Presbyterian).

It dates back to the HSBC acquisition of Midland Bank in 1992, when the Bank of England insisted not only on the combined bank being supervised from London, but on Sir Willie Purves, the entertainingly fierce former head of HSBC splitting the roles of chairman and chief executive. 

John Gapper

Lady Bracknell would have something to say about the current proclivity of the British high street banks for losing chief executives.

First it was John Varley at Barclays, then it was Eric Daniels at Lloyds and next it may be Michael Geoghegan of HSBC, who has threatened to quit if he is not appointed chairman. Are you sitting comfortably, Stephen Hester of Royal Bank of Scotland?