Des Hudson

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In Focus this month is Des Hudson, Chief Executive of the Law Society of England and Wales and the immediate former Chief Executive of the  Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS). 

Des was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, in 1955. He read Law at the University of Leeds in 1977 and qualified as a solicitor in 1980, becoming the first lawyer in his family.

He worked as a solicitor in private practice until 1987. During that time he became a salaried partner at Goldberg, Black & Howards in Manchester, specialising in Crime and Child Protection work.

During the booming Thatcher era of the late 1980s, Des wanted to do some commercial work and calculated that the fastest route to achieve this without any commercial experience was to work for a building society. Consequently, in 1987, Des joined the Yorkshire Building Society in Bradford as an Assistant solicitor and held a number of positions there. In 1991 he was appointed the General Manager of the Lending and Savings section within the Yorkshire Building Society.
In 1992, he moved to the bigger Britannia Building Society in Staffordshire to take up the post of the Head of Lending. In 1995 Des became Operations Director of Britannia Life, based in Glasgow and the following year he was made the Managing Director.

He joined SMG (Scottish Media Group) in 1998 to become the Chief Executive of their publishing division. During this time his remit covered The Glasgow Herald, TheSunday Herald and Glasgow’s Evening Times and he was responsible for setting up on-line and printing businesses for SMG, a period he thoroughly enjoyed. In 1999 he was appointed a director of SMG Plc where he remained until 2004.

In September 2004 Des took up the post of Chief Executive designate of ICAS, which has 16,000 members worldwide, and became its Chief Executive the following January, 2005. He resigned that post to take up the reins of the Law Society as its Chief Executive in September 2006 after the old Law Society was split into three distinct bodies (The Law Society, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Consumer Complaints Commission), a position he described as “an opportunity that was irresistible”.

In an interview following his appointment Des was asked what his main challenges would be. He replied: “The main challenge is to create the new representation body. In the past the Law Society has been about regulation with representation a side issue. With the separation of both roles we are left with the big challenge of making representation effective and relevant.”

Des divides his time between his home in Glasgow and his job in London. He is married with three sons, aged 18, 15 and five.

Below is our interview with Des:

BLD: You are a solicitor and were a partner in a law firm, why did you leave law?
DH:  When I joined the Yorkshire Building Society, I did not intend to leave law at all. The grand plan was to gain experience in commercial law and move back into private practice, but things didn’t quite happen like that.

BLD: What attracted you to your current post?
DH: The challenge. It is a very challenging time. I ask myself: ”Can I do it?”  “Can I make a success of it?” It is also a bigger job, a much more national job and I wondered if I could rise to the challenge.

BLD: Those in the profession (and indeed the public) are confused about the split of the old Law Society into three, one of which you head which is also called The Law Society! Can you tell us why the split happened?
DH: The Council took a momentous decision in January 2006 about the then proposed Clementii reforms. It made a decision to make the changes before it was forced upon it. Also so that we could ensure that we work much more effectively and make better use of what we have.

BLD: In simple terms how do the three separate parts function in reality?
DH: We have a very complex beast, I must admit. All the three parts come together as one and there is really only one legal entity, the (larger) Law Society which is responsible for the common issues, such as  accounting, the budget, IT,  the Compensation Fund etc. Within the (larger) Law Society there are three autonomous parts. The Solicitors Regulation Authority deals purely with the regulatory aspects, the Consumer Complaints Commission deals with the complaints and (the mini) Law Society, my remit, deals with representing our members on issues affecting them.

BLD: If you were to choose another role/profession other what you are doing now what would it be and why?
DH: I would be an accountant because I have tremendous respect for them. They are great thinkers with excellent brains. However, the best job I have ever had was being involved in newspapers with SMG. If I could, therefore, turn the clock back to how things were, I would go into newspapers. As things are now so different, I wouldn’t do that now!

BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
DH: It was by the Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Building Society, Derek Roberts. He was a very difficult and demanding man. He, however, taught me the importance of attention to detail in relation to people.

BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?
DH:  I can’t think of one.

BLD: What career advice would you give to others?
DH: Know the price you are prepared to pay and clearly understand what that price is. On this particular job the timing was not the best for my family but I knew the price.

BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?
DH: I think everyone has feet of clay so I do not have a specific person. However, I find how people handle their ups and downs interesting. 

BLD: How committed is the Law Society to ensuring that issues affecting ethnic minorities in the legal profession are fully represented and not marginalised?
DH: Absolutely committed. We are not beyond making mistakes or suffering through periods of ignorance. However, the wish to rectify past mistakes is very strong. There is a very strong desire to be representative of the country. It is not enough to have a good representative mix at the entry point into the profession but we must look beyond this – that is at what is happening up the pole. We’re working out what we should be doing while we have a strong commitment to do the right thing and not just tick boxes. Also, on the Carter reform front, we are taking a two-fold action – tough decision to resort to litigation against the Government, but also to engage in the political debate by taking the argument to Parliament and to the court of public opinion.

BLD:  The most famous/interesting/challenging diversity issues you have had to tackle in your professional role to date.
DH:  It was in my managerial role at the Yorkshire Building Society. We had employment and recruitment practices that were not right and driving those changes to make the employees more representative was interesting, particularly having the responsibility to put things right.

BLD:  What are the greatest issues/challenges on diversity that needs to be tackled now by the Law Society?
DH: I think the big issue for us is developing our next three-year plan, improving from entry into the profession up. So many black and ethnic minorities set up their own practices to have a rung up the ownership ladder but the Carter reforms can jeopardise all that.

BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
DH: Within the professional context, making a success of the Law Society’s complex structure. A key part of it is to invigorate the representative part.

BLD: What are your dislikes?
DH: Internal politicking. Overly internal focus as I prefer the big idea and the bigger picture.

BLD: How do you juggle work, family life living in London and Glasgow?
DH: Not easy although my wife thinks I am living the life in London!  I go home every weekend and get the earliest flight back to London on Monday. Also during the week I can totally focus on the job.

BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
DH: I would like to make policiticians nice and make them into people you could put your confidence in.