An Interview with Lady (Barbara) Judge

Barbara Judge
Lady Judge

21st February 2016

Barbara Judge became the first female Chairman of the Institute of Directors, the UK’s longest running organisation for professional leaders, in February of 2015. She is also Chairman Emeritus of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and Chairman of the Pension Protection Fund. In 2009, she was awarded a CBE for services to the Nuclear and Financial Services Industries.

Q: Since renewable energy, solar in particular, has become cheaper to produce, do you think that nuclear energy will continue to grow at its current rate?
A: Yes, because it’s not growing all that fast at the moment. It was growing a bit faster before Fukushima, although in actual fact, Fukushima hasn’t made that much difference in total terms of new build. I think many people believe that the energy shortage can be solved by renewables. However, renewable energy is only top-up energy; it is intermittent, it only works when the sun shines and the wind blows. What our country needs is baseload generation: we need energy which is produced 24/7. So I think that the advent of the climate change issue and the concern about making our atmosphere carbon free will give a boost to both renewables and nuclear.

Q: What changes would you like to see happen to the Institute of Directors? How are you planning to achieve these?
A: I have three agenda items. One is that I would like to open the door wider to women. Women have always been permitted to be members of the Institute of Directors, but the fact is you had to be a director, and there were not many women directors. More recently, there are a great deal more women in business. Overall we have about 16% women members, but of the younger cohorts about 50% are women, so it better reflects the modern-day ratio. I am, however, trying to get more women through the doors by having events which will make them understand the benefits of joining. I am trying to get more young entrepreneurs in as well. The Institute of Directors is a workspace; for many years it has been about business people getting together to do business, so it should be where young people get together for their business. In addition I am trying to bring in older people who are retired, so that they can be matched up with younger people, to help them start the businesses.

Q: Do you support the move for the UK to leave the European Union? What do you think the effect on British businesses will be if this goes ahead?
A: I don’t support it. I think if I had a free choice when we entered it, I probably would have voted against it, because I think it has given us a great deal of overregulation which makes business less competitive. However, it’s there, and it’s not going away. I believe that once there is a club we should be in it, and I think that we should have a strong role in it, so that we can affect policy and make Europe as a whole more competitive.

Q: What are the trends at the moment in pension deficits? Are they getting better?
A: Pension deficits are a huge problem, as you know. The problem is that, no, they’re not getting better. They’re getting worse, because interest rates are so low. If interest rates rose, then pension deficits would contract. The problem is that most pension plans have bought very conservative securities so as not to gamble with their pensioners’ money, which is appropriate. But when they bought them, you could expect they would have a certain amount of yield, say 5%, 6%, or 7%. When the yields go to 1%, the obligations stay the same, but the amount of money that the pension fund can expect year after year reduces. Therefore, low interest rates mean bigger pension fund deficits. When the interest rates finally rise, as ultimately they will, one hopes that the pension deficits will contract.

Q: Do you think it is more important at this point in time to improve gender equality or racial equality in boardrooms?
A: I think it’s all important. You can’t say that one is more important than the other. I think diversity of opinion is a good thing, and that boards should be looking for a group of people who are additive, not just all the same. And so, qualified directors who come from diverse backgrounds, including gender, ought to yield better results.

Q: Which books would you recommend to someone my age?
A: Well, the business book that I would recommend is called Good to Great by Jim Collins. It’s the best business book I have ever read. But I am not a huge reader of business books and there are probably better ones, but that’s one I’ve read and enjoyed. I like Blink by Malcolm Gladwell because it’s about first impressions. It’s about the way people make a judgement about you when you walk into a room. A person should really think about first impressions. I read biographies, such as the biography of Winston Churchill, and the biographies of various historic figures. Recently I have read John Adams; remember I am American, so the John Adams biography is really interesting. I would read Machiavelli because The Prince has some serious advice to give. I think it gives you a political outlook on things.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt over the course of your distinguished career?
A: Many. The best one is that, before you make any serious decision, you should get advice from a small group of advisors. You should have your own private little board of directors, consisting of a few people whose judgement you trust. The point is to listen to their opinions; you don’t have to take them, but you have to hear them before you make the decision, not after. I made certain decisions where I didn’t do that, and they were bad decisions, which wouldn’t have happened if I had asked peoples’ opinions.
Secondly, if you want to get promoted in your job or in your career, you have to remind people. Simply doing a good job doesn’t mean you’ll naturally get promoted. You have to let people know what you’re looking at for your next job, or your next project. Whatever it is that you want to do, you have to let people know that you want it, otherwise they may not think you are interested.
The last thing is, always be nice to everyone, whether they are more or less senior than you. When I was young and in a law firm, the most important people were the mailroom people, the IT people and all the service people. They could make your life easy, or they could make it very difficult. And particularly, be nice to older single ladies.

Q: What do you learn in your teenage years which you think has influenced your success?
A: Work as hard as you can. Even if you don’t get the job or the grade, you have to work as hard as you possibly can, so that if you don’t get it, you’ll never regret not putting more in. Many times, you do not achieve what you desire, but at least you think ‘I did everything I could.’ However, if you feel ‘Oh my goodness, I should have really worked a few more hours,’ it will always stay with you.

Q: Is there anything that you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: Masses of things. One of them was not working for every single exam as hard as I could have. If I had worked harder for my last exam in law school, I would have graduated first instead of second, which is still bothering me. Ask advice before you make decisions, not after, as I just told you. If you have something critical to say, tell people. Don’t write critical emails. If you have something that is a compliment, write it to them, because there is permanence in the written word.

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met and why?
A: My mother, by far. My mother taught women to go to work in the 50s, before women really worked. She understood that women should work, not because they were poor, not because they were alone, but that they had a brain, and they should use it, and they should earn their own money, because money meant independence. She kind of knew what would happen before things happened. She gave excellent advice, she had great judgement, and she gave me the benefit of her wise counsel, for which I am very grateful.

An Interview with Gillian Tett

Gillian Tett
Gillian Tett

25th February 2016

Gillian Tett is the US Managing Editor of the Financial Times, where her career spans over twenty years. She has covered the Soviet Union and Europe, become Tokyo bureau chief, and held the position of assistant editor.

Q: Who do you think will win the Republican and Democrat presidential nominations, and out of those two, who do you think will become President?
A: I think there’s a high chance that Trump will end up winning the Republican nomination, but is not certain yet; there could be a broken convention. I think that Clinton will win the Democrat nomination. If it is a straight forward race between Clinton and Trump, I think Clinton probably wins, but there’s a huge amount of uncertainty right now. There’s a good chance that we will have a broken Republican convention and that we will have a different candidate altogether.

Q: Do you think it is inevitable that newspapers become solely digital?
A: I don’t think that digital will ever entirely replace newspapers. I think that what you need to do today is look at the newspaper industry a bit like the movie industry. Basically, when you had VHS videos, when you had DVDs, home viewing systems, people said ‘Well, the cinema will die.’ But actually, what happened was that cinema audiences grew to record levels, and people went to the cinema for a different purpose, for a social event. They basically used DVDs, videos, on demand streaming services, to watch movies in a different context. So I think that in the future, if you want news quickly, people will increasingly use digital. For news that you get pleasure by savouring, by reading slowly, print will still have a purpose. It’s really a question of recognising that people consume news in many different ways, and you have to give people what they want, in the right context.

Q: Over time do think that use of virtual currencies will increase or decrease?
A: I think the use of virtual currencies will definitely increase, because technology is becoming dramatically better at a very rapid speed. If you look at what’s happening, say not so much with Bitcoin, but with different digital currencies, what’s very striking that it is unleashing a whole new range of possibilities that people weren’t looking at before. So yes, I think they will increase, but one of the key unknowns is the degree to which they can or cannot protect against cyber fraud. If there is a big cyber hacking incident, which causes serious financial turmoil, that could undermine trust quite significantly.

Q: How do you think China will fare in the future?
A: China has done extraordinarily well over the last few decades by having complete control and top-down guidance and leadership. It’s now having to adapt to a maturing economy, in a process that’s very similar to what Japan went through and other countries have gone through. That’s partly about moving from the exports sector to the services sector, and moving from industry sales to an economy more focused on consumption. It’s also about trying to take a bank-centred financial system that was heavily government controlled, and make it more reliant on capital markets, and essentially more open, liberal and, if you like, more democratic. They’ve started on that process, which is admirable, but it’s a fantastically difficult process to achieve, and it is an open bet as to whether they will do that without causing some type of dramatic upheaval. In Japan, as an example, when they tried to liberalise the stock market and the financial system and have these kinds of changes, it helped to stoke up a huge bubble, which then burst and caused huge damage. What makes the situation doubly difficult in the case of China is that you’ve potentially got deflation, you’ve got an ageing population, and you’ve got a lot of mismatched capacity, so it’s going to be tough.

Q: In the US, how big is the reaction to the UK potentially leaving the European Union?
A: There’s tremendous fascination in the US, and actually in Japan as well, which I’ve just visited. There’s tremendous interest in the whole story of Brexit. By and large, people simply do not understand why on earth the UK wants to leave; it seems completely mad to the Japanese and, to a lesser extent, the US. There’s huge concern that UK would be worse off leaving.

Q: Which books would you recommend to someone my age?
A: Whichever books unleash your passion and curiosity about the world. I’m not going to give specific titles, but I think when you are young, the main thing you have to do is be willing to explore and be curious. Be curious in as many different directions as possible. I’m a huge fan of Steve Jobs’ maxim, which is you can’t join up the dots in your life looking forwards, you can only do it looking backwards. You’ve got to have lived your life to connect the dots, so explore your passions in as many different directions as you can, and trust that one day in the future, they will connect in a way that makes for a very rich life, and a potentially very successful professional career too.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt over the course of your distinguished career?
A: Number one, have a sense of humour. Life is weird; nothing ever goes to plan. The majority of the most exciting opportunities that I’ve had have been things that occurred almost through serendipity. Whenever I tried to over-plan life, it hasn’t worked out as I expected. But in order to really enjoy the benefits of serendipity, you have to put yourself in a position where amazing chances pop up, and you grab them opportunistically. Other life lessons are always be kind to your colleagues and people below you, because if you are successful and start lording it over people, it always comes back to bite you. And again, be curious.

Q: What did you learn in your teenage years which you think has influenced your success?
A: I learned to have confidence and courage in myself. I was extremely shy as a child; I did not ever expect to get anywhere in life. I came from a background where, really, girls were not expected to have much of a career at all. And so, my expectations about what I would do in life were incredibly low. I would die of embarrassment if I ever had to speak in public, or speak to people I didn’t know. I was very shy, but I started taking tiny steps, which gradually built up my confidence. I believe that becoming a successful, confident person is a bit like climbing a ladder. You look yourself when you’re aged 14, 15, or 16, and say, ‘Wow, I could never be a person who stands on a stage, or goes on television, or runs a company.’ But the point is that you don’t have to go from 0 to 60 in one step, you take lots of little steps, so each time you do something which is challenging, you feel more confident. In my case, it was going on a French exchange when I was 12, and traveling by myself. Then it was going to Luxembourg, then I had a trip somewhere else, so I did some camping and hiking. At each stage I got more confident and independent, and I ended up having a lot of amazing adventures.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: I wish I’d spent more time studying maths and science. I think that having a really strong foundation in these subjects is crucial to someone who is in the liberal arts, like I am. So that’s certainly one thing I would have done; I think that’s the main thing. I wish I hadn’t worried so much about what people thought about me. I wish I’d had more confidence in my own ability, and teenage years can be very bitchy, and sort of bleak and stuff like that. If you remember that however horrible the social situation might be, it’s only a very brief moment in time, and looking to the long-term is crucial. So wish I hadn’t worried so much about what people thought about me.

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met and why?
A: I’ve met so many extraordinary people over the year, so it’s hard to single out just one person. Sheryl Sandberg fascinates me, because of what she’s done in her life, building a company. Also, Mark Zuckerberg. Ban Ki-moon, the head of the United Nations fascinates me; he has such an interesting story. So, there are a number of American politicians and business leaders I find fascinating. Finally, I always find Christine Lagarde very admirable.