When David Duffy’s mother saw him on the Six O’Clock News one evening discussing how much debt bailed-out Allied Irish Banks was in, she dropped her tea tray. Her son had just become its chief executive and until that point she had “no idea” what he had gotten himself into.
“She got the fright of her life. She didn’t know the numbers, [or] that I’d be on telly,” Duffy recalls. “She had a freak out. Horrified, terrified, [she was] saying why are you doing this, everyone hates the bank. There’s a smaller community [in Ireland] so it’s very personal and there’s nowhere to hide. You’re constantly on the radio or in the media whether you like it or not. Being seen in a pub rocking back laughing your head off wouldn’t have been a good look.”
The Irish banking boss joined the stricken lender in 2011 (the job was pitched to him as “the bank has collapsed, it’s got all these problems, you’ll possibly fail in front of all your friends and family and won’t get any money but other than that it’s a great opportunity”) and left four years later for Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group (CYBG) after he returned AIB to its first annual profit since the crisis. He is now responsible for driving CYBG through the biggest change in its history following its £1.7bn takeover of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Money last year.
“There’s a moment of serendipity in all of this,” the 57-year-old says, pointing to his first banking job which was at Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs. “I was just a poor guy from Ireland who didn’t know one thing from another. I didn’t really understand Goldman Sachs until a stretched limo came to pick me up from my house, and it was Virgin Atlantic. I thought, wow, this is something else. This whole world, I want to be a part of it. It’s funny it’s book-ended by Virgin.”