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24 November 2018

In Memoriam Richard Sermon MBE

Tag(s): In Memoriam, Business
This week I attended the Memorial Service of Richard Sermon MBE at St Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall. The church was packed to celebrate the life of this former Sheriff of the City of London and we heard tributes from Sir Roger Carr who had known Richard since school days, Dame Fiona Woolf who shared her shrieval year with Richard and Canon David Parrott. The present Lord Mayor and Sheriffs were in attendance and there were several other Lord Mayors and late Sheriffs present as well as numerous Past Masters, particularly from his two Worshipful Companies, the Wheelwrights and the Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.

Richard began his livery career younger than most by joining the Wheelwrights when he was only 16 years old as an apprentice to Sir Murray Fox, who became Lord Mayor in 1974. Qualifying as a Chartered Secretary, Richard pursued an early career at Crest Hotels before founding Shandwick Consultancy in the City of London with Peter Gummer, later Lord Chadlington. They built this business to become a global leading public relations organisation over the subsequent 17 years. They sold this to Interpublic and then Richard formed his own consultancy practice in 1996, Gryphon Corporate Counsel Limited, specialising in financial communications, reputation management, corporate governance and the promotion of inward investment and international trade.

All of these were of importance to Richard but the most important was corporate governance for which he had a passion. He was equally passionate about improving the opportunities of young people and these two enthusiasms characterised his public life.

Richard managed businesses in the UK and throughout Europe, working with banking, corporate and governmental clients throughout the world. He served as senior independent director of Jardine Lloyd Thompson and held many other non-executive director positions in private and listed companies. He was a Board member of The UK Defence Academy and a Visiting Professor in Corporate Governance at Cass Business School. He was Vice Chairman and a Fellow of City & Guilds of London Institute, and also played an important part in The Livery Companies Apprentice Scheme. Michael Bear, Lord Mayor in 2010-11, asked him to establish the City Values Forum in response to the Report on Corporate Culture by the Financial Reporting Council.

The City Values Forum works to embed the principles of trust and integrity in the financial and business services sector and to improve business cultures and behaviours. It is constituted as an informal working group reporting to successive Lord Mayors in their year of office. It has three main priorities namely to:
  • Research issues of trust, integrity, values and culture in the financial and business services sector
  • Develop, produce and give free access to best practice guidance, practical resource materials and training programmes to help Boards, executive management and individuals to encourage and embed the highest standards of behaviour in their businesses
  • Promote and disseminate the benefits of best practice and provide an open forum for the exchange of views on issues related to trust, integrity, values and culture in business through meetings , seminars, conferences and symposia
In the past few years there have been too many examples of bad behaviour in business, particularly in the financial sector. There was the whole sub-prime scandal contributing greatly to the financial crisis of 2008-10; there was the mis-selling of Payment Protection Insurance (2011-12); the mis-selling of High Risk Investments) 2011); the manipulation of Libor (2012); and the mis-selling of Rate Swaps (2012). More recently, in a wider business context, there have been the Carillion catastrophe and the shenanigans over remuneration at Persimmon. All of these are fundamentally a failure of governance but in the public mind, particularly among young people, it is a failure of capitalism. One recent survey of young people found that the young now believe they would be better off under communism than capitalism. Nothing could be further from the truth as any objective analysis of history would find. Indeed there have been far more scandals in the public sector whether it is corruption in the police, mass murder in the National Health Service, grotesque mismanagement of public procurement in defence, infrastructure and, yes, Carillion, I could go on. But the risk of taking the country back to an impoverished socialist world is very real and all of us in business need to have clear business models that align values with all stakeholders and hold employees to account for their misdemeanours.

Richard understood this very well and did as much as anyone I know to both demonstrate his own impeccable standards and try to teach these principles to others.

Richard was a Governor of the City of London School for Girls, Board Member of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a member of the Royal Society of St George, the Ward Club of Cheap and a Church Warden of St Mary at Hill, one of Christopher Wren’s best churches. He was a trustee of several charities and after 12 years as Chairman of London Youth he received an MBE in the 2010 New Year’s Honours List for ‘services to young people’. It is difficult to think of a better citation. But above all he was remembered this week, in the words of Dame Fiona, as ‘a lovely man’.

P.S. In last week's blog I said I had downloaded the draft Withdrawal Agreement. I have started to read it and so far have managed 50 of the 585 pages. It is worse than i feared in that in those 50 pages there were numerous references to other documents. To understand it you would have to refer to those documents and read and understand them as well, So I do not believe that any of the politicians or other commentators who have stated their views on this document have read it and comprehensively understood it, including the Prime Minister. I believe they all rely on what others tell them, particularly the Civil Servants. This is how the UK has given up sovereignty in the past. It is well documented that Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair in signing previous treaties that gave up increasing levels of sovereignty  were reassured by officials that these treaties did not mean that. Far from Brexit the Withdrawal; Agreement ties us closer to the EU and the ECJ without any chance to influence them, and so reduces our sovereignty further.

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