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Sir John Vickers: profile

Chairman of the Independent Commission on Banking is said to want to return to academia

Sir John Vickers is something of a reluctant apparatchik. He has built a reputation as an academic capable of running major public bodies, leading the Office of Fair Trading for five years and, before that, advising the Bank of England as chief economist and member of its monetary policy committee.

But those who know him say that he does not seek further public appointments. It is said the 53-year-old academic yearns to return to the University of Oxford, where he has been warden of All Souls College since 2008.

Vickers led the OFT through one of its biggest changes, the granting of full independence from government in 2002, but he did not draw headlines for taking on big business. His highest-profile campaign was against the price-fixing of replica football shirts. Often the regulator’s targets were small companies – estate agents, roofers, and the rogue kitchen fitter Vance Miller.

He will also be remembered as the warden responsible for scrapping one of Oxford’s most notorious exams, in which those wishing to be granted a fellowship of All Souls were challenged with a one-word essay question.

Last year, Vickers recalled his own exam. “It was in 1979. I can still remember the envelope being opened and being faced with the word ‘conversion’. I shudder to think what I wrote.”

Married with a son and two daughters, Vickers attended Eastbourne grammar school before reading politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford. He worked only briefly in the private sector – a summer job at IBM, a stint as a financial analyst at Shell UK. In 1981 he returned to academia, but was given leave from his Oxford professorship in 1998 to join the Bank of England.

Vickers then led the OFT until 2005, when he was succeeded by a former pupil, John Fingleton. A far more vocal consumer champion, Fingleton advised against the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds TSB in 2008, but was overruled by Peter Mandelson. He now believes it is too late to break the group up. On this point, the don and his ex-pupil are aligned. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds