Top of the heap

Tim Pile, newly installed chief executive at Sainsbury’s Bank, has had a chequered career which has never seen him reach the heights his talent seems to merit. Has this abrasive, opinionated and intelligent marketer finally found somewhere he

A private man who is larger than life at work. An intelligent, ambitious marketer whose career to date, observers believe, doesn’t do justice to his ability. A man described as a “pussycat” who has had to deal with an unsubstantiated and unproven allegation of sexual harassment made by a former colleague. Tim Pile is an interesting character.

Pile started work this week as chief executive of Sainsbury’s Bank (MW last week), continuing his career in financial services which began when he joined TSB in 1992 as director of marketing services.

Those in the industry believe Pile is well-suited to his new role, which will combine his financial services knowledge with his understanding of retail, learned during his time at agency D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B), when he worked on the Mars account.

It will also be the 48-year-old’s opportunity to make his mark in management after a frustrating career. One source says: “He steams up almost to the top and then slips away. It’s never really come together the way he wanted it to. He creates great energy, but it’s not really happened for him.”

This frustration was shown in his departure from his last job, as business strategy and marketing director at Alliance & Leicester. He left the bank suddenly last September after being undermined, according to observers, first by management and then by the arrival of Graham Pilkington.

One source explains: “At A&L Pile was always trying to be an agent of change, to make the organisation more consumer-driven, but I’m not sure how far he succeeded. Neither the original regime of Peter White nor the subsequent one under Peter McNamara let him get on with it.”

The arrival of Pilkington in July 2000 as marketing director for personal banking was the beginning of the end for Pile at A&L, observers say. Pile’s title changed from sales and marketing director and became business strategy and marketing director.

Pilkington was drafted in from Lloyds TSB by managing director McNamara, who had joined, also from Lloyds TSB, the previous month. Pilkington had previously worked under Pile at TSB and his appointment was widely seen as undermining Pile.

Mike Sommers, now chief marketer for Royal & SunAlliance’s estate agencies, was marketing director of TSB in the early Nineties. It was he who gave Pile his first job at TSB. He says: “McNamara never got to know Pile. Before he’d even sat down at A&L he brought in Pilkington, but if he’d thought about it he would have realised Tim was doing what needed to be done.

“Pile’s role was reduced and he should have left earlier than he did.”

However, Pilkington insists he was brought in as part of a company restructure and worked alongside Pile. He says: “Whatever I say, people will read something into it, but there was a new structure and a new role was created, which I took. Tim helped to develop that structure. It allowed him to focus on strategy while I looked after products and segmentation.”

Others believe the time was right for Pile to move anyway. Ford Ennals, Lloyds TSB managing director of group customer management, was marketing manager at Mars in the late Eighties, when Pile worked on the account for DMB&B.

He says: “I’ve always felt he could have got a better job than A&L and this looks like a good opportunity. The only question is whether he will be happy to report to [Sainsbury’s assistant managing director] Sara Weller. Weller is good but if financial services is important to Sainsbury’s, why isn’t there a more senior reporting line?”

Whether he will gel with Weller is another issue, as Pile has a reputation for having a blunt “public-school” sense of humour, which women in particular are said to find hard to handle. One woman who did find Pile difficult to work with was Melanie Rhodes, a colleague at TSB. In 1995 she accused Pile of sexually harassing her. The allegations made the national newspapers.

An internal inquiry found they had no substance and Rhodes quit. Pile left for A&L the following year after failing to secure the top marketing job when TSB merged with Lloyds.

Pile has never been afraid of making his opinion known. A former chairman of the Incorporated Societ

y of British Advertisers, and still a member of the committee, he believes passionately in his work.

BMP DDB group chairman James Best met Pile when the agency did A&L’s advertising in the mid-Nineties, and they have kept in touch since. He says: “Tim is one of the most dynamic and eloquent proponents of marketing. He can be pretty robust and critical of agencies and clients which get stuck in their ways.

“He’s a big advocate of integrated communications. He frets about the division into boxes of PR and promotion.”

One source suggests that Pile’s opinionated style of working can be a problem: “He’s the forceful type and maybe that gets up people’s noses.”

But Ennals argues there should be more people like Pile in the industry: “Sometimes he ruffles feathers, but there are too many people who prefer to play safe.”

Sommers argues that Pile’s inability to acquiesce unconditionally to clients’ demands was what made him such an interesting agency worker. Despite firing Dewe Rogerson – where Pile was managing director – from the TSB account in 1991, Sommers was impressed by Pile, and that led to the offer of the job at TSB.

He says: “Agency people are often obsequious. Tim was never really like that. If he had an idea, he would get frustrated if the client didn’t go with what he was thinking.”

Certainly, Pile has gained a good reputation for knowing what to look for in an agency. Edmund Smiley-Jones, business development director at EHS Brann, which won the A&L direct marketing account last year, recalls: “During the pitch he was very focused. He is very much a strategist and at every stage he pushed us. Even now the A&L marketing team believes in him.”

Over the years Pile has managed to establish himself as a character in the marketing industry. He now has an opportunity to combine his experience with the new challenge of being a senior manager. His knowledge is impressive, but it remains to be seen whether his forthright approach will fit in with Sainsbury’s style of business.

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