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.

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