Should people be given a second chance in business? Some lessons from the comebacks by George Davies and Andy Hornby

I remember exactly how shocked I was in 1988 when George Davies was sacked from Next following a boardroom coup.

The word on the street then was that he would never work in the industry again. Two years later – a decent amount of time for the dust to have settled – he astonished the world of retail when Archie Norman and Allan Leighton, two people who had the gift of spotting talent and leaders, brought him in to set up George at Asda.

Nearly 20 years later, could Andy Hornby’s appointment at Boots be ranked as one of the most extraordinary comebacks yet and – more importantly – should people be given a second chance in business? Ousted from HBoS and subjected to public condemnation, the main criticism of Hornby as a banker was that he was a retailer – he had performed well at Asda before joining HBoS to run its retail banking.

His lack of banking experience may have contributed to HBoS’s downfall but it is certain his proven retail skills have won him his new role at Boots. 

While publicly listed companies might have found it a challenge to justify Hornby’s appointment to their shareholders, privately owned Boots has no such difficulty. And indeed, at only 42, doesn’t Hornby deserve a second chance?

Both Hornby and Davies have a huge amount of confidence, self-motivation and self-belief, and in their different ways have been described as superstars. 

We have become tuned into thinking that failure is a bad thing. Would it not be true to say that we sometimes learn the best lessons from our mistakes and that perhaps without Davies being sacked from Next, he would not have been able to go on and succeed with George at Asda and then Per Una?

Norman believes that Hornby will bounce back and says if we threw away everyone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, we would lose a lot of talent. He also feels that Hornby is young with a lot to prove – a big motivation will be that he wants to prove people wrong.

Moira Benigson is managing partner of The MBS Group