Sir William Russell was Lord Mayor of the City of London 2019-2021 and is currently Alderman of Bread Street Ward. He’s also Board Member of CityUK, deputy chair of the Barbican Centre, and NED at Augmentum Fintech. Will was a classmate and housemate back from my time at Eton College where we shared many experiences on the sports field. In this conversation, we discuss his fascinating career, the influence of sports on his life, his appreciation of working for American companies, what makes an effective leader today, the important challenges for boards of governors, the impact of Brexit on Britain, as well as his experience in being knighted by the King.
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Music credit: The jingle at the beginning of the show is courtesy of my friend, Pierre Journel, author of the Guitar Channel. And, the new sign-off music is “A Convinced Man,” a song I co-wrote and recorded with Stephanie Singer back in the late 1980s (please excuse the quality of the sound!).
Full transcript via Otter.ai
SUMMARY KEYWORDS: london, people, city, linkedin, minter, great, boards, business, work, talent, convinced, brexit, uk, sports, years, podcast, purpose, network, law, mayor
SPEAKERS: Sir William Russell, Minter Dial
Minter Dial 00:05
Hello and a very warm welcome to episode number 540 of the Minter Dialogue podcast. I am Minter Dial and I’m your host for this podcast. I’m most proud member of the Evergreen Podcast Network. For more information or to check out other shows on the network, please go over and visit their site evergreenpodcasts.com. First, I’d like to give a quick shout out and thanks for putting up a five-star review on Apple podcasts by Vallingman. So, this week’s interview is with Sir William Russell. Will was Lord Mayor of the City of London 2019 to 2021 and is currently alderman of Bread Street Ward. He’s also a board member of City UK, deputy chair of the Barbican Centre, and a non-Executive Director at Augmentum Fintech. Will was a classmate and housemate of mine back during my time at Eton College, where we shared many experiences on the sports field, amongst others. In this conversation with Will, we discuss his fascinating career, the influence of sports on his life, his appreciation of working for American companies. What makes an effective leader today, the important challenges of boards of governors, the impact of Brexit, as well as his experience in being knighted by the king.
Minter Dial 01:26
You’ll find all the show notes on Minterdial.com. And please, if you have a little moment, go over and drop in a rating and review. And don’t forget to subscribe to catch all the future episodes. Now for the show. So, Will Russell! Who would have thought, oh gosh, how many years ago was it we met! We were stumbling teenagers running around in our school in tails and life has led us to … led you to have an extraordinary career. In your own words. Will, who are you?
Sir William Russell 02:00
So, who am I Minter? Lovely to see you and to be with you. And yes, who would have believed it all those years ago. So, I am Alderman. Sir William Russell and I’m an alderman with the City of London. My career has well started in our running shorts, I suppose at Eton College and then Durham University. And then I joined the Financial Services, and I worked out that the best people to work for the Americans. So, First Boston and Merrill Lynch. And then I decided in 2006 it was time to do something different and did a lot around charity. So, I’m a past Chairman of Prostate Cancer UK, and then deputy chair of Place To Be which is the mental health charity. But the big moment in my life was when I decided to stand as alderman of the City of London. And we can talk about that a bit more. I don’t want to bore anyone, but it dates back hundreds of years. The City of London and the court of Aldermen is where they select the Lord Mayor of the City of London and I was sheriff in 2016 and then became Lord Mayor in 2019 for two years because of COVID, which was a huge privilege and an honor. And one of the oldest offices in the UK that dates back to 1189. And I was the 692nd Lord Mayor of the great city of London.
Minter Dial 03:29
And so it was also a two-term stint, which is very rare as well.
Sir William Russell 03:37
Yes, because of COVID I was asked if I would do it another year and the last time that happened was 1860 1861 and that was William Cubitt. And many of the listeners will know that William Cubitt built Cubitt Town down on the Isle of Dogs, but also developed Pimlico and Belgravia. He was from a wealthy building family and Leonie asked me why was he asked to do another year and I say because his largesse to the city, because you had to pay for everything yourself in those days, was so great. They said give him another year; whereas I was probably the cheapest Lord Mayor for many years but there are a number of law makers who did two years back to back but of course the one the most famous Lord Mayor which is Dick Whittington who did four years in total but he did do back to back years in 1397 and 1398. And I never thought in my wildest dreams I would have anything in common apart from being Lord Mayor … but had to have done two years like Dick Whittington.
Minter Dial 04:42
Absolutely stunning. So, what does the Lord Mayor of the City of London do? I mean, it’s obviously related to the financial sector, I would say, but give us an idea of what was your life like?
Sir William Russell 04:56
So, you move into the Mansion House which is opposite at the Bank of England down in the Bank, and the Mansion House dates back to sort of 18th century, and was built because the city decided that the Lord Mayor should have his or her own residence. But your major task is you are the ambassador for financial and professional services for the whole of the UK, not just the City of London. And I remind people that that employs about 2.3 million people, of which two thirds of those employees are outside the city of London. It’s 8% of the GDP of our country, 11% of our tax take, it is a huge sector. In fact, it is the largest sector for the UK, and, and many people know Financial Services is has been a critical part of the UK success. And that includes the law and the rule of law is one of our greatest strengths. But it also includes the insurance sector, which sometimes gets forgotten. And that’s 27% of the GDP of the financial and professional services. It is a huge business and hugely successful Lloyd’s of London.
Minter Dial 04:56
So, 2019-20 we’re post Brexit and so much of the press talks about the departure of all these European or worldwide financial services to European centres. How much of that is true? And how is the financial services sector been so strong surviving this post-Brexit world?
Sir William Russell 06:38
So, look, I was a Remainer. But I try not to be a Remoaner. But Brexit hasn’t helped us, in my opinion. And as Jamie Dimon said, when I was Lord Mayor, he and I did a had a meeting with him. Jamie Dimon said, We love London, we think it’s just London’s great. But don’t think that the Macrons of the world and other countries aren’t just going to chip away. And I’m afraid that’s what’s happening. It was never going to be this sudden burst of where some people came and said would lose 80,000 jobs overnight. I think it’s less than 10,000. But you can see this drift now. As everyone knows, Brexit was back in 2016. But we didn’t really come out and officially until January 2020. But you can see that there is a drift. However, I’m not going to do London down because London is the greatest city in the world. And the key reason why I’m still optimistic about London and finance professional services is because we attract that global talent. And it’s all about talent. And as long as we are attracting that global talent to London, then I think we’ll be fine. However, I could argue funnily enough, and this will sound like a Brexit argument. But I could argue that we even if we hadn’t left Europe, London would have lost a bit of market share. Because if you look at people’s risk registers, how could you have so much of your eggs in the London basket, so to speak. So, I always think that Frankfurt and Paris and other cities, we’re going to start to benefit from that anyway, that migration away. The one that everyone’s really watching is the London is the clearing. But at the moment, even the big European banks are saying, you know, we can’t do this, this is you know, it will cost us and we’ll be less competitive. And, you know, where has the talk about EU capital markets gone? And we all know about listings, it’s not just London, I mean, look at Amsterdam listings around the world have dropped dramatically. But I still think that, that the London was viable, got a very successful FinTech sector, we’re still the tech center of, of Europe. And the investments in FinTech are still higher than the whole the rest of Europe put together. So, you know, it’s not ideal, but it’s not a disaster. So, I think we’ll still be fine. But, you know, our competition will weather as I said, whether it’s Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt will continue to chip away at us and you know, who would blame them? I’d do the same.
Minter Dial 09:18
It’s fair game. So, you talked about the ability to attract talent. It’s quite a hot topic, the ability to attract talent in today’s world, all these businesses are struggling to attract the top talent but because they’re, they’re still not flexible enough or they’re not providing enough amenities and foosball tables or whatever it takes. What sort of talent? Do you find that London is attracting and in the financial world, FinTech included? What about attracting coders because there’s a lot of talk in the press about? Well, coders are well not a lot of people want to come to London. These are individual people. We have to import talent from other countries picking us up.
Sir William Russell 10:06
So, I’m not an expert on the coding thing, but I am involved in particular businesses based in Europe. And I mean, the thing about the coders is they can code from anywhere. So, London is an expensive city, there’s no doubt about it. But, and many of our FinTech companies have people working for them in while they were in the Ukraine, or whether it’s Bulgaria, whether it’s Croatia, which has become a big tech, talent hub, as well. And obviously, the wages are cheaper and all that. But I think the ecosystem, this is where I come back to in London is unique. You don’t you have all the law firms, you have all the asset managers you have, and you can, and there’s a reason why the likes of HSBC and Clifford Chance and moving from Canary Wharf back into the city is because they recognize that ecosystem is unique. I, I’m here in the city, now, I can I can if I have a meeting, I just walk out of my door and, and go and meet, you know, one of the one of the one of the firms around the corner, and I think that’s worth a lot. The other thing, I would say, is we have a history and that history is also worth a lot and I always used to say Brexit. One thing Brexit can’t do is take our history away. I mean, you know, people like the history. Look, we’ve just had the coronation, how many people are tourists is that bought to the UK and particularly to London when they watch on television, you know, our wonderful king and the coronation. So, don’t underestimate what I call that soft. convening power. And I think if you ask me is when I was Lord Mayor, what is the thing you picked up? The one of the things you picked up the most? It was that soft convening power of the mayoralty, you know, people would come to the Mansion House, and, you know, I’d host heads of states, I host I hosted Zalensky in October 2021, obviously, not knowing what was going to happen. So, you know, that we’re, we’re part of the sort of government, we’re not part of government, but the government uses us as part of that soft convening power that we offer when people visit the country. And that gets replicated when you go overseas. You know, whether it’s to Kuwait or to Saudi or to, or to the UAE, or many other countries or Ms. Lord Mayor, in a normal time, and mine wasn’t a normal time, you travel over 100 days of the year, promoting financial and professional services. So, I think the talent wants to come here. And the final thing I’ll say about that is, and I’m deputy chair of the Barbican Centre, and I’ve always loved the arts and culture. And when I was Lord Mayor, I chaired the cultural commerce Task Force, is commerce has realized that it’s not just about coming into the office. And it’s more than that, in each of these big corporations need to what I say need to earn the commute. And it’s about purpose. It’s changed dramatically, Minter, from the days that you and I were working for financial services. And I think that’s a positive. And I think that, you know, many companies want their employees to be happy to enjoy coming into the office, what else can they offer them? You know, look at that, look at all the whole conversation and the stigma that’s been lifted about mental health, which there was no mental health discussion when you and I are at the coalface. And so the world’s changed, and London is able to provide all that. And I think that’s one of its greatest benefits. I mean, I don’t know that I’m sure you have probably been to New York recently. I haven’t. But everyone says New York is just a tip at the moment. And, you know, London has got the new Elizabeth line. You know, we’re still we do ourselves down. It’s a classic British sort of thing to do, we actually need to be a bit more upbeat and recognize how lucky we are to have what we have.
Minter Dial 14:06
Well, that would be a good conduit to talk about why you said working for First Boston and Merrill Lynch, I worked at DLJ at the beginning of my career. Why did you say that the American style is good. I mean, there are not always reputed that way.
Sir William Russell 14:24
There was in those days when we were all leaving university. We were trying to work out who, who, you know who the winners were going to be? And to be frank, who were going to pay you best. And I think the American culture is much more meritocratic and the UK banks, of which there aren’t many left if there are any left in fact, not the commercial banks and investment banks, you know, there was always a little bit Oh, we can’t pay him or her that amount of money because you know, they’re too junior. Whereas the Americans would say, you know, it’s an American culture, which I appreciated, you know, you deliver, we’ll pay you doesn’t matter how old you are. And, you know, it was a very good time that you and I were in, in financial services working for the Americans, and they were, that’s how they worked. And I love that culture. You know, different banks have different cultures, I was never going to be a Goldman’s person. But Merrill Lynch was a wonderful place to work, and have lots of many friends from there still, while I’m on the Americans, that’s the other thing is that a lot of everyone predicted all these banks with open headquarters elsewhere. And, you know, I think many of JP Morgan’s obviously opened a couple of big offices in Paris. But, you know, a lot of the American employees now, I remember a story. And I think it was one, it was one of the big America’s banks where they said, you know, we want to get to a director, we want to move you to Frankfurt. And the director said, Well, that’s absolutely fine. I’ll commute and my family stays here in London. And, you know, that is partly the strength of London.
Minter Dial 16:09
And, of course, you were you referred to Jamie Dimon earlier, who I guess was the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is that correct? Or is he still?
Sir William Russell 16:17
He still is very much. JP Morgan. I mean, he’s it. He’s one of my heroes. He’s incredible. And, and he is a titan, and what he’s created is extraordinary. So, anyway, yeah.
Minter Dial 16:30
So, I want to follow on, because you mentioned this idea of purpose. And Will, if I were to be entirely, Frank, my opinion, is that financial services companies haven’t really figured out or remembered what their purpose, their genuine upper-lifting purpose is. Give me! Tell me I’m wrong.
Sir William Russell 16:52
No, I mean, I think it’s different banks have different views. But I do think, funnily enough, I mean, you will know, and I know many hedge fund managers who are hugely successful, who are below the radar, and their philanthropy is absolutely phenomenal. They just don’t talk about it. And so, I do think that we there is a culture, where those who have done very well successfully set up the foundations and help others. When I talk about purpose, it’s more around the individual, rather than the banks, but the individual can then influence the bank or influence the company they’re working for. And I do think that in our day, totally agree with you, it was there was a less sense of a purpose. But if you’re going to employ, you know, some of these bright new graduates, they want to know that the company is doing more than just paying them big bonuses, and what else is there that they can do for the community. For those, you know, a lot of companies do get involved have a charity of the year. But part of that involves volunteering, so that their employees can volunteer, I know that Blackrock does a lot of that. And, and, and I think it has changed, but the change has been forced by the new employees, they aren’t gonna get the best talent, if they don’t have more of a sense of purpose. So, it’s in their interest. It’s a bit like, diversity and inclusion, you know, all the data is out there, that the more diverse and inclusive your workforce is, the results are better. So, why wouldn’t you do it? So, I think that that goes hand in hand. So, now that, you know, data is so important to look at, I think companies are worked out that you know, having more of a sense of purpose, having better diversity inclusion actually improves results. And that’s ultimately what they’re looking to do.
Minter Dial 18:47
Yeah, there’s this sort of sense of pragmatism to some of these, let’s say trendy topics, like diversity, inclusion and equality, or CSR, corporate and sustainable development programs or even having purpose. If you can prove that it’s useful while in the financial services, I can get that yet. I would say that doing charities isn’t making your business, your core business purposeful. It’s sort of like an add on, that allows you to have purpose, but it doesn’t like insurance companies, for example, Will, in the past, their purpose was to allow for adventure to allow for people to explore the world in a way that was financially possible. That was their purpose. That’s a big old purpose today, that’s, you know, maybe entirely lost in the small print.
Sir William Russell 19:44
Yeah, man, I think that you may be right. I mean, I think I look at the insurance sector and see how that’s evolved over the last 2030 years into this huge sector that a lot of people now go immediately to whereas I always remember, at university and no offense to anyone who’s listening to this, who’s in the insurance world, but you know, you went to insurance because, you know, it was a place of last resort rather than getting into investment banking or, or doing other things around the city. But that’s not the case anymore. I mean, you know, Marshall McCann and Aon and all these great firms are recruiting some of the best talent. So, you know, the investment banks are competing with them now. But, you know, I know a lot of people at Aon and they have a great culture. And, and that’s and they’ve had to adapt and change to attract that talent, particularly female talent, because the insurance sector will who I’m sure they’d be the first admit didn’t have a great reputation. But that reputation is changing. And they make they’re becoming much more inclusive.
Minter Dial 20:49
Well, a little wink to my daughter, Alexandra, who is currently looking at insurance companies herself. So, big smile.
Sir William Russell 20:58
You can tell her that you didn’t prime me.
Minter Dial 21:02
Too true. So, Will, I’m going back a little bit. You mentioned prostate cancer you worked with and your work at Barbican, you probably get I’m gonna guess about one a day some kind of proposition. Hey, mister, Sir Will. Can you join this? Can you do this? Can you speak about us? Your position of influence? Obviously, your network what you do and who you are makes that an obvious request. But how do you sort through those?
Sir William Russell 21:34
Those, by the way, I wish and you built me up into this person who gets all these requests, which isn’t the case. Firstly, I don’t go looking for anything. I’m a big fatalist. And I always think that something will happen. And, you’ll just know. And so that happens quite a bit. But I do have a I have a rule and it drives my wife mad that on the whole, I say yes to everything as far as meeting people, because when whereas law, there were many occasions when one was speaking to groups of young people, or people graduates and they always would ask the question, you know, what is the wheel, you know, the best piece of advice you can give us as we go forward in life. And I always say the same. And I’ve said it, I said to my children, I will have searched my children, and they’re pretty good at it is that if you’re invited to something, always say yes. Because you never know, when you go to that event, who you’re going to meet, how they how you could change their life, but also they could change your life. And yeah, that’s really important. And now, you know, you and I were fortunate enough to have the education we’ve had. And we were brought up with what I call a networking view. And you could argue that our old school is probably one of the greatest networks that we’ve ever had. However, we’re that many people in the world don’t have that luck, and that fortunate to the fortunate way that we were brought up. And, and I think it’s really true, I think you and you need to be out there and build your network. If you look back at history. You know, it’s all about the network. And there’s a very good book, which I read, and I can’t remember who wrote it, I think it was first and wrote it about the network. And it goes back in history, whether it’s the Romans and the Greeks think about, you know, you know, whether they didn’t have the social media that we had, but you know, whether they’re against the marketplace or the Roman Forum, you know, they were all networking. And I think that’s, that’s one of the pieces of advice I always give to people be out there, show your face, and you never know what might come your come your way.
Minter Dial 24:00
So, it’s interesting. You used the word “fatalistic.” I would characterize it perhaps more positively being the Yank that I am as opportunistic.
Sir William Russell 24:08
Yes, yes. That’s probably a better word. Yeah.
Minter Dial 24:11
And yet you have you have to deal with choice. Because I mean, for example, maybe you’re not getting a request today to join a board. But you’re probably getting at least a request today to be joined up on LinkedIn. And I feel like at least, yeah, and that that then how do you select that? I mean, for me, what I have I’ve learned is good networking is to network openly, but only connect with people you know, and trust.
Sir William Russell 24:44
So, I think I’d be on that stage on LinkedIn. I wish I could say, connect, connect. Connect only connects with you by no interest. I don’t connect with everyone on LinkedIn. By the way, I think LinkedIn is brilliant, and I’m a massive fan and With an acquisition by Microsoft, or there’s years ago, very smart, and it just gets better and better. You know, I can’t remember the last time that I even looked at Facebook, LinkedIn for the world that you probably you and I are in is a huge tool. And when I just got reelected as Alderman at Red Street, and rather than have a, you know, my own website, I just put up a LinkedIn with all my voters and everything was done on LinkedIn, which was maybe not a huge amount of interest to other people on my LinkedIn. But you know, people know what you’re doing, I mean, number of times that I’ve met people, I’ve seen you doing this and that. So, you know, and I’m the same, you know, you can see what people are up to on LinkedIn without necessarily having to reply to them, it’s up to you what you read, but so I’m probably not as selective, I am selective of that. But you know, I’m, and some, sometimes I think it is a weakness, because as much as there are good people out there, there are some bad people too. But I’m basically always look for the good in people. And that sometimes does come a couple of times, it’s come back to bite me, but, and in today’s world, you have to be a little careful. I’m trying not to be too cynical, but on the whole, I will give people a chance. And you can find out pretty quickly whether they’re wrong or not. But on the whole, I always just just go for it and see what happened. But LinkedIn that you can see what’s going on with LinkedIn is people just go for it across the board and want to have as many, it’s a bit like Instagram, isn’t it really, you want many followers or LinkedIn members, and then you can put other products out there. So, it’s gonna be interesting how that evolves over the next year or so.
Minter Dial 26:44
You do get the feeling that it involves, it allows for more and more personal things as well…
Sir William Russell 26:51
Which is not what it’s about.
Minter Dial 26:52
Right. But you know, as soon as you can allow a little bit more emotion into it, it creates more engagement. I’m not going to show your dogs and your cats. Yeah,
Sir William Russell 27:03
I think showing yourself on a holiday. That was Facebook, I see that more as Instagram. Yeah, that is not LinkedIn. And on the whole people keep to it, but you do get the odd one and see the oh gosh, I think they’ve got the wrong platform for whatever put out there.
Minter Dial 27:21
So, Will, one of the shared things you and I have is a passion for sports, usually, of course with the other game from those Spanish people. El padel. But more specifically, you were an outstanding sportsman and still are during our school years. And I was just wondering what’s your narrative as to what sports brought to you as an individual.
Sir William Russell 27:46
So, I mean, it’s a team ethic really, um, I love padel, you’re playing and the two of you are playing a team, it’s a smaller team. But I think it’s that ability to work with the team. And when there’s a victory, it’s not down to the individual. It’s down to all of you pulling together. And actually, that is a very good segue into, you know, your job life. You know, when I was at Merrill Lynch, and I was in charge of a desk, you know, how do you bring that team together, you work together, you be collaborative. And I think that’s one of the great joys of sport, that it getting greens that into I always remember when I was interviewing people, I would always ask about sports, and that and the team ethic, because you don’t want an individual joining your team, you want somebody who will slot into the team and work with everybody. And I think that’s where sport is, is a very powerful, powerful tool. And I love and I was fortunate enough to see the women at the Euro finals last year, but I love what’s going on women’s sport. I just think that’s brilliant. It’s been far too long getting to where we’re going, but still got a long way to go. But I think that’s hugely positive when I hear of, you know, all these women playing football. And I think, you know, back in 1972, women weren’t allowed to play football. I think it’s even during our lifetime terrifying. Or they weren’t allowed to play on the boys’ pitches or whatever it is, but you know, so there’s been a huge change. And, and I think that’s, that’s great. And so sport does bring that to the table, that whole team ethic.
Minter Dial 29:33
Yeah, and while you typically we’re playing larger team sports, as in cricket, and rugby, yeah, 11 and 15 for those who don’t know that sport, and that obviously seems smaller on a padel court, but I tend to think that actually the team on the paddle court is all four of you. At some level sports is also entertaining. But for spectators as we get into it, and much like I’ve been approaching the idea of conversations where I am conversing with you, I also think that above us, you and me, Will, is a third third concept, at a meta level. So, what is our conversation looking like? And so, when you’re in a panel court, you’re playing with your partner, and you have these other two on the other side. It’s also about playing with them, especially, let’s say in a recreational space to make the game for all of us better.
Sir William Russell 30:33
Yeah, no, I think you can see that it depends how competitive your mentor really, if you want, I mean, if you want to be absolutely ruthless, and finish off the point, I’m sure on many occasions, you can, but then there’s a side of you where, you know, it’s good to keep the rally going, because it makes it more fun. So, and if you’re playing that sort of in padel, you can have the victory lap. Look, when I’m playing with my son, Nicholas against Alistair on it, you know, we still have great rallies. But I assure you, Nicholas and I want to win, just as much as understood on it.
Minter Dial 31:10
Well, this is presumably material for the Joy of Padel podcast. And I would say that in padel, my observation is that if you are trying to win too much, you can quickly lose, because you’re trying for the winners, whereas this is sort of the other side of just putting it back.
Sir William Russell 31:31
Yes. The deft touch waiting for the moment.
Minter Dial 31:34
We will see one another on a padel court shortly, I’m sure. So, what about leadership? So obviously, you captained many sides, in your career in sports. And then you you’ve had these positions of leadership in business and in public? How would you describe what makes for an effective leader today? You mentioned that Jamie Dimon was a hero of yours. How would you describe great leadership, effective leadership today?
Sir William Russell 32:05
So, I mean, the obvious point for me is leading from the front and setting the example. And I think that is an important part of it. And then I always use one word, which is communication, if you can’t communicate with your people, then you can’t lead Simple as that. So, to me, you know, that is the most critical. So, whether you’re communicating where you want to take people, whether you’re communicating what the business plan is, whether your community, so many things is around me, and also that part of that communication is the other word listening. Because if you want a listener, then you’re in No, you aren’t going to understand your people. And you know, we all could be better this is my goodness, I’m and I could be a much better listener. And it’s definitely something where I try and work at it. Because if the phrase if you aren’t listening, you aren’t learning. And, and I think that or if you’re talking you aren’t learning sometimes, I mean, it’s the same, same thing. So, those would be the two things. I mean, you know, their masters or books be written about leadership. I think that a lot of it’s around personality. I’m always optimistic and enthusiastic, you know, you’ve got to smile. And, and the other. The final thing I’ll say, on the leadership front is that, and I say this to many people, but if you’re kind to people, when you need that favor, they’ll deliver for you because but if you’re if you’re too hard on people, and you upset people and in today’s world has changed and the days of, you know, cracking the whip, you have to bring people with you in a kind way. Because to be frank, you know, when you’re trying to push on a particular area, and you need the help or their hard work running into something you’re doing in a week’s time. They want to be there for you when you need them.
Minter Dial 34:23
You make me think so you use the word kind in German, kinder: the children. And I feel like that’s the connecting tissue if you if you remain curious, you therefore will want to listen, ask questions like a child. And so being a kind person could include someone who is able to listen.
Sir William Russell 34:47
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. And ask questions is critical how many times you sat next to I’ve sat next to many people in my career, and particularly in the last five or six years and, Hilary, my wife has –and men, I’m afraid are probably worse at this than women – but she sat next to, and at the end of the evening, I always say to her, So how was your evening? And she says, He knows everything about I know everything about him. And he knows nothing about me. That is, I always like to leave a dinner party or dinner, thinking I know more about the person I sit next to and they know about me, just because I’ve been asking questions.
Minter Dial 35:32
I so agree. And the funny or the ironic element your wife was talking about? Is that more than likely that same man will say, Oh, you’re absolutely fascinating. I love you. Yeah. Knowing absolutely zilch. Yeah. Right. So, leadership, you talk about communication? And in this notion, there are several buzzwords that people like to use, like authentic and transparent. How do you qualify? What is good communication these days? I mean, is it all out there?
Sir William Russell 36:10
Yeah. So, I like to think I’m pretty authentic. You see what you get, and you know me well enough. And I think you’re the same. Transparency is an interesting one. I mean, I’m pretty transparent. It’s transparency is how much information? Do you ultimately want to disclose? In my view, you could we could be totally transparent and put everything out there. Sometimes, that’s not the right thing to do. But, I think you have to be more transparent than then. Then, obviously, 20-30 years ago, and people will push back and say, you know, you’re telling me to do this. But, you know, can you tell me the reasons why? And they can question you. And the days of don’t question me, just get on with it. They’re gone. And you’ve got to explain why. And I think you’re absolutely and that’s part of the transparency. I think, if you’re too much of an open book, then that doesn’t leave anything else for, you know, you just have to be careful, I’m, I’m, I’m pretty much an open book. But, that’s more my style, but I’m sure that other leaders who do it in a different way!
Minter Dial 37:27
Well, if we look at the issue of choice, because time is limited listening forever, you never get anything done, if you’re all you’re doing is only listening as opposed to making a decision or, or as a politician stating what your position is. Because at one point, you actually have to get off the pot, and, you know, come out with it. And then when you’re communicating with someone, and you’re, you’re not fully transparent, or you’re trying to be too transparent, well, there is a line and you need to know, there’s not just the Legal Lines, but you need to know where that line is and how far you’re willing to go. And I think a lot of people are getting pulled into transparency, because that’s the demand. And there’s an agenda behind it. And putting out more explicit line, at least for you, how far you want to go, I feel as is a key element of being authentic.
Sir William Russell 38:23
Yeah, I think I think that that makes sense. I mean, on the communication front, it’s a question of how, how you want to communicate, I still have a call me old school, but I still have a view that if I get an email, that and remember, I always say this to people as well, there is no emotion in email. Now we’ve got emojis, there’s a bit more emotion, I suppose. But if I get an email that is out there, and I think is a bit too, you know, is a bit too rude or tough. I never reply to that email, I always pick up the telephone I always have. I just think there’s so much more you can use, then you can understand the emotion and you can deal with it. Whereas on email, you can’t.
Minter Dial 39:13
Well, the other maybe an other idea would be not to send immediately when you’re hot headed.
Sir William Russell 39:22
Oh no no, I agree. I’d never do that. Never do that.
Minter Dial 39:25
I can imagine but you’ve mentioned several sort of, let’s say conservative ideas that and the challenge of today is we’re gonna get looked at like old men, but things like being present to you said you want to you want to work and live in the City to be close and have you know, see the networking that’s in person. There’s a solid element of In Real Life to that. Yeah. As well as calling as opposed to the email.
Sir William Russell 39:53
No, I think there’s right there is definitely I mean, look, I mean, I’m very proud of everyone coming back to the office. I think Fridays is going to be tricky. But I think if we can get Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then that’s a great result. But what’s going to happen is businesses again to people who aren’t coming back to the office are going to realize their contemporaries are getting promoted and getting paid more. And, you know, if you aren’t there, and part of that, that that network and that culture of communicating face to face with people, then you’ll lose out.
Minter Dial 40:32
Yeah, I think this is gonna be one of the more grisly, difficult issues facing business leaders for the next couple of years. That’s for sure. Well, I wanted to talk to you about leadership again, but split down the idea between leadership and business and leadership as a politician. I mean, I hope that’s an okay term for you.
Sir William Russell 40:54
Yeah, I mean, very small, minor politician on the basis that there are politics within the City of London Corporation, but, and I’m elected, but it’s not quite like the politics down the road in Westminster.
Minter Dial 41:08
Right? Yet, you so where I wanted to focus this particular pieces, when you’re running a business, as a leader, it’s generally all down to you, at least you must take full responsibility for everything that’s happening in your company, even though you may not be agreeing with everything that you have to take responsibility, that is your belt, you’re ultimately the fall guy, and therefore, the person who has the right to make definitive calls, in politics in general, as a leader, you have this kind of difficult to weightiness, that seems to be more apparent than in business where you have to say, This is my platform, this is what I believe is what I want to do. And then you get elected, and you and yet you’re trying to, you’re trying to represent the elected population, the people who have elected you. So, how do you propose and represent at the same time?
Sir William Russell 42:06
Who’s on represent? Well, I mean, you start off by saying when you get elected, and having just recently elected saying things that you think you can deliver on so on, my recent election is all done in the great ward of Bread Street, which is just by passing laws to square. The thing is, I actually spent most of the time telling him about the things I’d already achieved. And I wanted to be reelected. So, I could continue to do those things, but achieve more. So, I do think I like to think that I put things out there, like, you know, I’m Deputy Chair, of The Barbican, I hope to chair the Barbican next year. What can I continue to do around mental health? You know, so I like to think that, you know, I put things out there that I can deliver on, and that’s more my style, whereas in today’s world of the febrile politics down in Westminster, they say all the other things that they can possibly deliver on. And, you know, and I think that that’s, that’s very sad, but you know, you just have to look across the water. And, you know, the Republican candidate for president and, I mean, say a lot of things that he can’t possibly deliver on… the whole way it works. So, it has changed. So, in a way I rather like, in the City, and the way it works, the sooner I like the idea that, you know, it’s a small, small picture, obviously, compared to the global stage, or even in Westminster, but you can say things and hopefully deliver them. So, it’s a lot easier than the big politics that that other people are involved in, which I thought about many times, and I assure you, it didn’t take me very long to say I’m not interested.
Minter Dial 43:58
So, no scoops on this podcast? Well, you know, the issue, I think is that generally speaking, democracy is under siege. And if there’s no accountability possible, including through the media, to hold politicians to promises made or statements said, and I understand you, I think you’re on the board of City AM?
Sir William Russell 44:26
Not the newspaper, City UK, which is, you know, is the association that deals with finance, professional services, the whole of the UK.
Minter Dial 44:40
I see. Well, so let’s talk about the work that you do when you’re on a Board of Governors, because the issue are generally speaking is the Board of Governors is supposedly there to oversee the selection of the CEO, generally over there to look at the longer term issues. And I was just wondering from your experience, Will, as opposed to the executive in in the business? What are their main challenges and preoccupations facing boards these days?
Sir William Russell 45:14
Gosh, that’s a that’s a big question.
Minter Dial 45:16
Sorry. Maybe too.
Sir William Russell 45:19
I’m just thinking. I mean, I always, always think that Sustainability and Environment is one of the big issues for any board, I think. You know, the state and health, mental health of one’s employees is is very important. And, and also, you know, what, where one is taking the company going, going forward? In an environment that is really very tough and getting probably going to get tougher. And, you know, on the various boards I’m on, and by the way, I’d need to talk about that I’ve got a board meeting starting at one o’clock. But then I think, you know, you it’s, there’s a lot of issues, geopolitical as well, particularly if you’re doing businesses in different countries. And, you know, gosh, I mean, when I started out, I mean, did you ever hear or hear about the risk register? And I haven’t even mentioned cybercrime, and the whole AI world that is going to change everything. And that’s a whole new topic, which I won’t go on to, but everything’s moving so fast. And for boards, it’s very difficult, and the risks are getting probably greater. And a lot of people don’t want to be on boards because they see the risk being too great.
Minter Dial 46:51
Fiduciary responsibilities. Well, so you mentioned sustainability, mental health and times getting tougher. In terms of tough conversations, what about ethics? Is, is that a conversation? Because in my experience on boards, Will, I never had a conversation about an ethical framework, it seems to me to be an important one, a difficult one, but rarely discussed on boards.
Sir William Russell 47:18
So, yeah, I think ethics is very important. So, I’m on the board of the Barbican. And we had a whole day on ethics, because it affects our people who work at the Barbican and it affects what artistic shows we’re putting on, you know, where when we’re funding Where do you get your money from their ethics is a big part of the barbecue and boards, you know, an area of focus for us. So, I think it’s it is important.
Minter Dial 47:48
Well, last question, if you will, to let you in off on time. Being knighted. I’d love for you to tell us what that experience was like for you.
Sir William Russell 47:58
Oh, it was incredible experience at Windsor Castle, and I was fortunate enough to be knighted by the King. And I definitely got it all wrong. I think I went down on two knees. When you’re supposed to be one. And then when you step back, we’re meant to step back four or five paces and bow, and I stepped up and bowed straightaway. So, the King being as lovely as he is, as he does so many of these things that he wouldn’t have probably even noticed it. But, it was lovely to do it with my brother, whose name is Damian Lewis, my half-brother and he got his CBE. So, he was after me. I did you know, being a bit of brotherly competitiveness. The Knights got theirs before the CBEs, so that was yeah, we smiled about that.
Minter Dial 48:55
One upsmanship reminds me, Will, about when I got married. And so, I got married in Paris. And in France, I did a civil wedding. And the mayor asked me would you like to get married to this woman? And so this in French, of course, and at that time, I said “Je veux bien”, which I thought meant I want a lot. And I wanted it a lot. And it turns out that actually in French that means “Yeah, why not?” So, know your language, know your protocols. Brush up on your Shakespeare before next time. Will, thank you so much for coming on. How can someone connect with you if they’re so inclined, or at least follow what you do, what are the best ways?
Sir William Russell 49:41
Minter Dial 49:43
That is it. I’ll put all that in the show notes as well. Okay, brilliant. Look, looking forward to seeing you want to padel court and Vamos, my man! Okay. Thanks again.
Sir William Russell 49:51
Good weekend. Cheers.
Minter Dial 49:55
Thanks for having listen to this episode of The Minter Dialogue podcast. If you’d like to show would like to support me, please consider a donation on patreon.com/Minterdial. You can also subscribe on your favorite podcast service. And as ever, rating and reviews are the real currency for podcasts. You’ll find the show notes with over 2000 and more blog posts on mint.com Check out my documentary film and four books including my last one “You Lead, How being yourself makes you a better leader.” And to finish here’s a song I wrote Stephanie Singer, “A Convinced Man.”
I like the feel of a stranger
Tucked around me
Precipitating the danger
To feel free
Trust is the reason
Still I won’t toe the line.
I sit here passively
Hope for your respect
Anticipating the thrill of your intellect
Maybe I tell myself
There’s no use in me lying.
I’m a convinced man,
Building an urge
A convinced man,
To live and die submerged.
A convinced man,
In the arms of a woman
I’m a convinced man
Challenge my fate
I’m a convinced man
A convinced man
In the arms of a woman.
And struggle to see
Live for the challenge
So life’s not incomplete
What’s wrong with challenge
I know soon we all die
I like the feel of a stranger
Tucked around me
Precipitating the danger
To feel free,
Trust in my reason
And let me show you why.
I’m a convinced man
Practicing my lines
I’m a convinced man
Here in these confines
A convinced man
In the arms of a woman.
I’m a convinced man
Put me to the test
I’m a convinced man
I’m ready for an arrest
I’m a convinced man
In the arms of a woman.
I’m a convinced man… so convinced
You convince me, yeah baby,
I’m a convinced man
In the arms of a woman…
Minter Dial is an international professional speaker, author & consultant on Leadership, Branding and Transformation. After a successful international career at L’Oréal, Minter Dial returned to his entrepreneurial roots and has spent the last twelve years helping senior management teams and Boards to adapt to the new exigencies of the digitally enhanced marketplace. He has worked with world-class organisations to help activate their brand strategies, and figure out how best to integrate new technologies, digital tools, devices and platforms. Above all, Minter works to catalyse a change in mindset and dial up transformation. Minter received his BA in Trilingual Literature from Yale University (1987) and gained his MBA at INSEAD, Fontainebleau (1993). He’s author of four award-winning books, including Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence (2nd edition) (2023); You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader (Kogan Page 2021); co-author of Futureproof, How To Get Your Business Ready For The Next Disruption (Pearson 2017); and author of The Last Ring Home (Myndset Press 2016), a book and documentary film, both of which have won awards and critical acclaim.
👉🏼 It’s easy to inquire about booking Minter Dial here.