Lady Barbara Judge CBE is chair of the Pension Protection Fund, former chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and was the youngest ever commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission. She is a board director of Dementia UK and next month she begins a three-year tenure as the IoD’s first female chair. Here she talks about feminism, food and creating a forum for business
I am totally thrilled,” says Lady Barbara Judge of her new appointment as we walk to our cover shoot in 116 Pall Mall’s impressive, chandelier-clad Nash Room. “You know I didn’t tell anyone that I had gotten the role until it was announced – even my son found out from the press release! I didn’t want to jinx it.”
Lady Judge, the American-British commercial lawyer turned businesswoman, recalls her first encounter with the IoD. “I came here for a meeting back in the Eighties and thought the building was so impressive. I remember asking if it was a gentlemen’s club and when I heard it was for directors, I hoped to become a member as soon as I could.”
Lady Judge has had a long, illustrious career and has held many senior positions in companies of all sizes. In 1983 she became the first woman main board executive director of London merchant bank Samuel Montagu & Co. Subsequent board positions have included deputy chair of the Financial Reporting Council and chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority – a position that led to her current role as deputy chair of Tepco’s Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee.
She has lived in New York, Washington and Hong Kong, and settled in London in 1993. “I liked the fact that the English didn’t talk about money all the time.” It’s this wide range and depth of experience which gives her a fundamental understanding of the issues facing UK business leaders and informs one of her key aims for the IoD: to strengthen its role as a forum for business leaders of companies of all sizes.
“I want to make the IoD relevant to all directors in this country, in big and small companies,” she says. “The IoD is for directors, it’s not for companies, it’s about the people. Directors of companies of all sizes have challenges which are getting ever more onerous and important. When there’s a problem, as there has been at RBS, for example, the first thing everyone says is ‘Where were the directors? What were the directors thinking?’”
Lady Judge sees one of her missions as promoting conversation among directors so that the high standard of UK corporate governance can be maintained.
“I said a great deal about this in my IoD interview. I myself as a board member have faced many difficult questions about how to deal with issues that have come to the board table, particularly when the board is considering a transaction about which I have had serious reservations. How does one deal with these issues appropriately and constructively? All directors will face problems like these and we all need a trusted forum where we can share and debate ideas, and consider proposed solutions. Essentially I want the IoD to be the source of your own little private board of directors.”
Another goal is to make the IoD a place where young entrepreneurs – the digital-age generation – can feel comfortable. “I am very keen to support the new IoD 99 initiative and to help it grow. My son has just started his own VC company and my daughter-in-law her own PR company. I want the IoD to be an incubator – a place where people like them can hang out, interact with others who are in similar situations and exchange ideas and grow.” Lady Judge feels it’s important to focus attention on the role of business in the UK’s economic health.
We have to celebrate the fact that Britain is an entrepreneurial country and that we have an entrepreneur population
Women in business
Lady Judge was born in Manhattan to an academic mother and an entrepreneur father. In the Fifties her mother created a New York University course specifically for women, The World of Work for Women.
Its purpose was to “teach women how to work, not because they were alone, not because they were in financial difficulty but because they had a brain and they should have the opportunity to use it”. She subsequently moved to the New York Institute of Technology as associate dean of students and stayed there for over 40 years.
Lady Judge calls her mother “the most important person in my life” and refers to her often. “She impressed upon me that work can make your life meaningful in so many ways: that you need it for independence, and you have to be independent. She taught me that working is cathartic and fulfilling, and that it is an important way to make a contribution to the world. Work keeps your mind active, engaged with other people and it gives you a way to help society.”
As a girl Lady Judge thought she might want to be an actress but her mother’s reaction was clear. “She said ‘We are not having any starving actresses in this family. Try being a lawyer, perhaps you can act in front of a jury’. So that’s what I did.”
Lady Judge graduated from New York University School of Law in 1969 with numerous academic prizes and awards. She moved into corporate law and became a partner at the New York law firm Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays and Handler in 1978.
In 1980 she was appointed the youngest ever commissioner of the SEC by President Carter and, during her term, initiated reforms to open the US capital markets to overseas investors and facilitate Americans investing in foreign securities.
She was personally instrumental in persuading the Tokyo Stock Exchange to open its doors to foreign members. Judge regards the SEC role as a career-defining moment, but still lays credit for her career and her subsequent lifelong passion, promoting women in business, at her mother’s door.
“Women need role models. If I hadn’t had my mother I wouldn’t have known that there was another way other than sitting at home staring at the dishwasher. I would have been like that blonde character [Betty Draper played by January Jones] in Mad Men who lives in Connecticut and is going slowly mad.
“It is so important for women to be independent. As IoD chair I hope to be a leading force in helping all women. The issue of women on boards is important but it’s not my primary focus – I want to see women getting into executive management and being promoted to CEO.
“It’s at the executive level where the action really is. I also want to see them studying science and engineering so that they can have the credibility to break down barriers in non-traditional careers.
“I want women to believe that they can do anything that a man can do. I have a real place in my heart for women working at every level because they are all important to business and society.”
It’s not just gender diversity that Lady Judge is passionate about. She feels strongly about people being able to work for as many years as they wish.
In 2010 she became chair of the Pension Protection Fund, which was set up to compensate members of defined-benefit pension schemes that have failed. She told The Independent in 2013: “Getting more people working – and organising properly funded pensions – is vital for their health, and for the health of the economy.”
It’s a mission fuelled by sadness. Lady Judge flies to New York regularly to visit her mother, who developed dementia immediately after stopping work.
“My mother left her job at the age of 88 and got dementia almost immediately. There is nothing physically wrong with her, but she has forgotten how to walk so she is now in a wheelchair. She also can’t remember from one sentence to the next.”
Recently Lady Judge joined the board of Dementia UK – the charity intent on improving the quality of life for dementia patients.
“It’s too late for my mother but, in an effort to help other people, I want to devote my charitable efforts, my non-business time, whatever I can give, to the cause of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It is a family problem – dementia doesn’t just affect the sufferer, it also impacts the carers, the children, family and friends. I want to help other people know how to care for people they love and how to make the situation more endurable both for the person that has the dementia and the loved ones.
“Dementia is a forgotten disease. The reason drug companies aren’t working on treatments for dementia is that they can’t seem to figure it out and there isn’t instant payback. The only drugs that are on the market don’t work. I have to try to mobilise people. If we all attack this problem I hope we can solve it.”
And Lady Judge doesn’t hang about. Within weeks of being appointed director to the charity, she wrote an open letter to the editor of the Sunday Times, saying: “I believe that wider society and business also have a role to play in terms of attitudes towards the elderly and in encouraging lifestyles that reduce the risk of dementia.
“Research suggests that the benefits of working longer and keeping your brain active can help to stave off the onset of the disease, yet UK business does not always share this mindset when it comes to employing older workers … We need a concerted and co-ordinated effort to make work for older people a more achievable option for those who want it – the benefits will be economic and societal.”
Lady Judge wants people to work as long as they can if they so wish. “The day my mother didn’t have to get up to go to a job was the day she stopped wanting to get up at all.”
Unsurprisingly Lady Judge wants to work for as long as she can. She loves working, a sentiment that is shared by many business leaders but seldom acknowledged. “I think work is a privilege,” she adds.
Lady Judge does take holidays but most are centred around two other passions – France (where she has a house) and food. She has a sweet tooth and loves cakes, cookies and ice cream. She travels extensively for business and enjoys sleuthing out wonderful local eateries and reviewing them for Forbes.com.
She tells me that her love of great food began when she was a young lawyer. She and colleagues used to burn the midnight oil and the only time they left the office was to eat.
This was the early Seventies and beautiful food in New York was in its infancy. Lady Judge began reading Gourmet magazine and then started cooking with her friends, aided by Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
“My love for great food grew and I used to come to Europe and have wonderful holidays travelling around England and France trying new restaurants and visiting local castles or châteaux – I love antique furniture and collect Oriental porcelain.”
Apart from foodie diversions though, her main passion is still her work and she nods when I ask her if she really did say that her ambition was to die at her desk.
“Absolutely. My idea of purgatory is not working, and my idea of heaven is having something useful to do. My mother always told me that if you can feel (when you are old) that the world is a better place because you have been in it, then you will find real peace. Clearly I am hoping that that will be the case.”
Lady Barbara Judge – Did you know?
- Lady Judge comes from an entrepreneurial family – both her brother and sister have their own businesses. Her son has launched his own VC company Triangle Growth Partners, and her daughter a PR firm, Aggelos Consulting.
- In 2010 Lady Judge was appointed a CBE for services to the nuclear and financial services
- Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour listed her as one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK
Lady Judge will be speaking at the IoD Wales Director of the Year Awards on 15 May at the Swalec Stadium, Cardiff
She is a member of the IoD’s City of London branch