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28 April 2018

The Livery Companies

Tag(s): History, Languages & Culture, Philanthropy
I recently attended the Spring Lunch of the Worshipful Company of Marketors, of which I am a Past Master. The speaker was Dr Stefan Fafinski, the present Master of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.  He is both an expert on computer systems and on the law so he was a fitting speaker to address the issue of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into force on 25th May. Dr Fafinski thinks that the great furore these new regulations have aroused reminds him of the similar furore before the turn of the millennium, the so called millennium bug also known as Y2K. Many IT firms and consultants made fortunes by spreading doom and gloom unless organisations rewired all their legacy systems but in the end almost nothing happened. Dr Fafinski thinks it will be the same this time.

But by a coincidence this event represented a kind of millennium for me. It was the 1,000 event I have attended in the City of London since I joined the Marketors in 2004, roughly one every five days. I was invited to join the Worshipful Company of Marketors in 2003 by Alderman Sir Paul Judge who became Master of the Company in 2005. Sir Paul had a distinguished career in marketing highlighted by leading the Management Buyout from Cadbury of what became Premier Foods. He sadly died of complications from septicaemia last year. At the Rededication Service at St Brides before the Spring Lunch our current Master Richard Christou, together with our Honorary Chaplain the Reverend Dr Canon Alison Joyce, unveiled a plaque in his memory.

I was then CEO of NXT plc, an LSE listed company. I had little spare time but was attracted by the offer of a social programme with people of like mind. During my time at Sony such is Japanese culture that there was an extensive corporate social programme, much of which involved my wife. We entertained our dealers and their partners at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne, Twickenham and Wimbledon. We even went on holiday with them to places like Florida and Tahiti.

Then after 17 years working for Americans and ten for the Japanese I thought it was time I started working for the British. The problem was that all the corporate social life disappeared. There simply was not any.

So the Marketors seemed to fill a gap for my wife and me. And so it proved. We enjoyed the spectacular banquets in the marvellous City halls as well as more modest events like museum visits and walks in the City. After a while I realised that most of the work to create these events was done by volunteers and indeed there was a wide range of activities that went beyond merely enjoying each other’s company.

I began to sit on a range of committees and then was asked to chair one. Then someone suggested I should apply to go on Court, effectively the board of governors of the Company. At first I deferred but then thought again and started asking the members of Court that I knew what they thought. One Past Master, sadly also no longer with us, John Flynn said, “You’ll have to work!” It was the best advice I ever had.

After a while I was asked if I was willing to stand as Junior Warden, the next stepping stone to be Master. I discussed it with Carmen as I knew it was a major commitment in both time and money. She was supportive and so I went ahead putting my hat in the ring. I was elected in the spring of 2013 and the following year as Middle Warden, I began the process of planning the year, about eighteen months before taking office. I blogged extensively about my year as Master in 2016 and last year published these in a book Marketing for Good is Good Marketing.[i]

One of the best things about being Master is that you get to know many of your fellow Masters and make good friends with them. You come to appreciate that all of their companies, ancient and modern, do good work. Indeed, for many that becomes the primary activity of the company, and the primary motivation of the members. I may have joined my livery company for its social activity and there is nothing wrong with that but my primary motivation now is to use it as a force for good.

Similarly when the Masters of the year of Lord Mountevans’ term of office as Lord Mayor formed our Past Masters Association we asked ourselves is there more purpose to our association than just being a social club. And we resolved to find that purpose in charitable activity, not by seeking to raise money as our Livery Companies already do that but by using our time, our networks, our skills and yes, our wisdom.[ii]

But sadly much of this good work goes unnoticed and unappreciated. From time to time attacks are made on the Livery Companies as it is thought, often by those on the left, that they are merely rich dining clubs living off their legacy riches and exploiting their privileges. In the 1880s the Livery Companies came under massive attack by Liberal MPs who accused them of a medley of sins including gluttony, corruption and even embezzlement of the vast funds. But a Royal Commission which reported in 1884 after thoroughly reviewing their activities gave them a clean bill of health. Their charitable activities fully met the requirements of the Charitable Commissioners. Their dining and other entertainment were entirely funded privately. Nevertheless the Liverymen knew how closely they had sailed to the wind and redoubled their activities, founding the City and Guilds Institute, encouraging apprenticeships and increasing their support for the crafts and professions out of which they originated.

New Labour flirted with the City but the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn is once again on the warpath against the City. In the Observer just after the installation of the new Lord Mayor there was a stinging attack on the City of London Corporation using language very similar to that of the 19th Century Liberal Party. These new attacks were not specifically about the Livery Companies but we are connected symbiotically. Livery Companies come into being through the offices of the Court of Aldermen. We then elect the Lord Mayor.

To fight against this ignorant, misguided thinking the Livery Companies need to do more to demonstrate the good that they do. This falls into a number of areas;
  • Donations: collectively it is reported that the Livery Companies provide annual donations to a variety of charities and other deserving causes to the value of £43m.  But this figure is at least ten years old and in any case is almost certainly considerably underreported. An average Livery Company Charitable Trust might give away 4% of its capital each year representing the income the trust receives. That implies a total reserve of approximately £1bn but we know it’s much more than that.
  • New Receipts from members: a more impressive figure might be the new money that is raised each year as this comes from current members rather than from the inheritance of ancient wealth. One company recently raised £500k from its members while another raised a staggering £750k. In both cases the intention is to donate it all over just five years and then raise a new fund. This comes out of a feeling that many members have that the Trustees are too conservative and maintain considerable reserves even though they have no liabilities and run no risks.
  • Education: Many Livery Companies founded great schools (think of Merchant Taylors’) and continue to support them both financially through grants and scholarships and in providing members as governors. The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers has a relationship with seven schools and most of its members will take a turn as a governor.
  • Apprenticeships: Many Livery Companies organise and finance apprenticeships in their particular craft or trade. This is of invaluable help in keeping some of the ancient crafts alive.
  • The Armed Forces: Traditionally, over many centuries the City Livery Companies have supported the Armed Forces. The Marketors have formed affiliations with 151 regiment the Royal Logistics Corps; St Dunstan’s College Combined Cadet Force and HMS St Albans. In former days the Livery Companies were effectively bank rolling the armed forces. Today such costs are well beyond us but we can still help in many ways e.g. the Marketors have provided a lot of help to soldiers and sailors returning to Civvy Street.
  • Outreach: As I said earlier, it’s not just about money. We can also offer our time and our skill. Some measure this by ascribing a value to a day’s work, quoting say a typical day’s fee for consultancy but the real value is of the value created rather than the equivalent cost of the work. One of my predecessors as Master, Gerry Draper OBE, was the first Marketing Director of British Airways following the merger of BOAC and BEA. He was an expert in tourism and invented Club Class and Sovereign for BA. St Paul’s Cathedral approached the Marketors for help as they were in some financial difficulties. Gerry went to see them. He said, “you must charge for admission. You must develop a range of merchandise and open a shop and a café. You must run a programme of events to drive traffic.” How many millions did he make for them?

[i] Marketing for Good is Good Marketing: a year in the life of a Livery Company Master. David Pearson. Create Space 2017. Available via this website.
[ii] See my blogs
Building a Better City for All 10 December 2017
and Wellbeing in the City 3 March 2018
The Soul of the City London’s Livery Companies Colonel Robert J. Blackman. London. 1932
London’s Livery Companies David Palfreyman Oracle. 2010

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