Ross McEwan failed an accounting module during his degree in business studies and human resources not once but twice.
The 56-year old New Zealander, appointed on Friday to run bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland, has also admitted that he is more "comfortable with people than figures".
But it has not stood in the way of the Bank of England clearing the appointment of the fitness enthusiast to the one of the highest-profile and politically charged roles in the banking world as chief executive of the 81%-taxpayer owned bank.
In an interview in 2000 with the magazine for alumni of New Zealand's Massey University, which he attended in the 1970s, McEwan also admitted that passing his accountancy level 2 did not feel like a priority at the time. Sport and having fun mattered more. He conceded, though, that given his career of choice – in the financial world – he wished he had "put more time into it".
It did not hold him back. He became one of the youngest chief executives in New Zealand, running the local operations of the French insurance company Axa not long after he turned 40. He rose to the top after starting out in personnel-type jobs at Unilever, Dunlop and then National Mutual (which became Axa). He also spent 1985 travelling to the US, UK and Europe.
He had progressed through the career ladder at National Mutual and attended the Stanford University executive programme in Singapore before taking the top job after the takeover by Axa.
He also held a top role at the stockbroking firm First NZ Capital Securities before arriving at Commonwealth Bank at Australia only to lose out on the top job. That made the move to the UK to run the retail arm of RBS more attractive, helped by £3m the bailed-out bank paid him to buy him out of his deals at the Australian bank.
McEwan met his wife, Stephanie, while they were both studying at the university through playing basketball. She graduated with honours in food technology and the couple had their children in their early 20s. The family owns a farm in New Zealand.
He also admitted he does not like change. "I have to manage myself before I can bring others along. Communication is important. If the reasons for change are made clear to people … then they are happier moving forward."
He has already tried to instigate change in the retail banking arm of RBS in his barely 12 months which began in the aftermath of the June 2012 IT meltdown when millions of customers of RBS, NatWest and Ulster were unable to access their accounts. About £700m has been earmarked for expenditure – and more than a 1,000 jobs axed – to turn RBS into what he wanted to make the best UK retail bank. In a set-piece presentation in March – delivered in fluent, straight-forward speech – he admitted being "quite surprised how bad this industry is". Evidence, perhaps, of that preference for people over numbers – as might be the decision to waive his bonus for 2014.
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image: © Elliott Brown