As ‘business lobby groups’ go, the Institute of Directors has always struck me as worthy but unexciting: a more authentic voice of mid-sized corporate Britain than the fat-cat smugfest that is the CBI; a fount of sound advice on governance, gender equality and ‘mental health at work’; and a handy Pall Mall watering hole for business folk up from the provinces. But as the storm of revelations about personal behaviour topples one pillar of respectability after another, the IoD has suddenly been reduced to reputational rubble following allegations of racism and bullying against its chairman, Lady Judge — who resigned in fury last Friday, shortly after being suspended by the IoD’s Council.
American-born Barbara Judge, a lawyer who has held a vast number of boardroom jobs, is well known to be a formidable operator. The Spectator was once offered an interview with her in her capacity as chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. I sent our most debonair contributor, Elliot Wilson — the Roger Moore of business journalism, you might say — to see whether he could charm her into saying anything off-script. He found her impeccably briefed but unsmiling in her high-backed chair and starched ruff. ‘Frostier than a Siberian morning’, he told me; in print we called her ‘a cross between Marie Antoinette and Jessica Tandy’.
But whether or not that characteristic hauteur has contributed to her nemesis, the IoD’s handling of her case has been catastrophic. Director-general Stephen Martin (who secretly recorded a conversation that was used in evidence against Judge) deserves a special prize for empty hyperbole: the episode, he announced, ‘marks the start of a new era for the IoD where we are freed… to share our learnings from this difficult challenge’. More telling was the resignation, alongside Judge, of the IoD’s respected deputy chairman Sir Ken Olisa, a tech entrepreneur who also happens to be the first black Lord-Lieutenant of London: he called the process leading to Judge’s suspension ‘fatally flawed’ and ‘a personal vendetta’.
Meanwhile, what’s left of the IoD’s Council must be wishing it knew of a nearby institute that could offer urgent advice on governance and mental health for organisations in meltdown.