Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett and Michelle Wright featured in The Sunday Times
It was a warm June evening in the City and England’s crunch World Cup game against Uruguay was set to start in an hour. Yet 80 young executives, among them lawyers, accountants and analysts, were packed into a room at the top of Close Brothers’ smart City headquarters to hear about how they could make a difference in the world of charity.
Happily, the first speaker at the inaugural seminar of the Close Brothers Trustee Leadership Programme was the energetic and inspiring Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett.
Once a barrister, then a banker at Flemings, he ran Marie Curie Cancer Care for 12 years and is now chairman of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Trust. In 2010 he chaired a review of philanthropy. At the seminar, Hughes-Hallett, 60, talked frankly about how he came to dedicate his life to good causes.
What may have seemed a charmed life suddenly changed when his first child died in the early 1980s. Later, when his son began to stammer, he discovered the Michael Palin Centre in north London, which helps children and young people with the speech disorder. Hughes-Hallett became a trustee of the charity behind the centre, which he credits with transforming his boy’s life.
His dedication to philanthropy and the third sector had begun. The decision to devote his professional life to it, too, was influenced by the nervous breakdown he suffered because of work- related stress in the early 1990s.
When Chase Manhattan took over Flemings in 2000, Hughes-Hallett made “a ton of money”, and he decided then to leave the financial world.
First, he became chief executive of Marie Curie Cancer Care. Today one of his roles is chairman of Cause4, which advises charities and social enterprises and develops new forms of funding.
He is delighted with Close Brothers Asset Management’s initiative, which will train young people to become charity trustees, especially as he believes that the City can and should do more philanthropic activity.
“Some people in the City — for example, Harvey McGrath at Man Group — have done a colossal amount for philanthropy and there are lots of other Harveys. But I’m always struck by the fact that City firms don’t use their talent to go with their treasure nearly enough, to improve their reputation.”
Hughes-Hallett is hopeful that the twenty- and thirtysomethings now entering the City will be different from and more generous than his own generation.
The trustee leadership programme will help them to improve their skills and put their specific knowledge — whether financial, legal or in areas such as communication — to good use.
“I’ve always thought philanthropy is about a contract. It’s about giving something back and creating a relationship. You can learn a lot through experience,” Hughes-Hallett said.
He does not have a lot of time for corporate social responsibility as it is currently espoused by many companies. “Frankly, I think they should rip up most of their programmes and start again. [Giving] time and talent is important but it is still cash that is really needed.”
The young professionals who attended the seminar are not so different from most of their counterparts in the Square Mile. They are ambitious and they want to use their time wisely. The Close Brothers initiative aims to match their skills with charities that need their services. It’s a win-win situation all round.
The executives get the boardroom experience they need if they are to make it to the next rung of the corporate ladder and they also get to consider real operational and financial problems — an opportunity they might not get for years in the organisations they work for.
Michelle Wright, chief executive of Cause4, was eager to help when Close Brothers approached her about designing the programme. “My experience of being a trustee is that quite often you get plunged into it without any preparation,” she said.
“We created a programme of six areas that covered the responsibilities of a trustee, including financial responsibility, governance, charity law and fundraising. Then, at the end of the seminar programme, we will have an event where we match charity CEOs who need trustees with people with appropriate skills.”
According to the Charity Commission, half of all good causes have vacancies for trustees. Also, the average age of trustees is 57, so younger volunteers are desperately needed. However, many City professionals do not know the positions exist, or how to access them.
Close Brothers’ initiative is already helping to rectify this. It is oversubscribed and clients of the firm are talking to Cause4 about setting up similar programmes for their staff.
Wright believes that it could also help to increase female representation in boardrooms, which is still less than the 25% target set by the Davies review. “In terms of diversity, many charities could give some of the bigger companies a run for their money,” she said. “The sector is not that great about shouting about its successes, but a quarter of top charities by income have female CEOs.
“The role models for women in the boardroom are certainly there. Look at Jane Tewson, co-founder of Comic Relief, Kay Boycott, chief executive of Asthma UK, and Zarine Kharas and Anne-Marie Huby, founders of Just Giving.
“Charity roles can be very good stepping stones into those senior roles in the wider City, for men and women.”
Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, agrees that trusteeships are a good move for the next generation of non-executive directors, giving them new challenges and a fresh perspective on their day job.
“Employers will also benefit from having a wider pool of people able to step up to the boardroom. Too many UK boardrooms still lack real diversity. This route could be a great way to accelerate the development of more people from diverse backgrounds.”
Missing the first half of a World Cup game was the first step for many of those at Close Brothers, but Hughes-Hallett is hopeful that the first cohort of aspiring trustees will make a real difference. “I’m very optimistic for the future of philanthropy. Finally the corporate world is really beginning to get it,” he said.
Read the full press release here