Marcus Dysch

JLC: Time for the old guard to make way for the next generation

It's time capable, younger figures were given a chance to show what they can do

April 12, 2017 10:34

It was an inspirational speech and it fell on eager ears. When Sir Mick Davis addressed participants graduating from the Jewish Leadership Council’s Gamechangers programme in October 2015, he explained the importance to British Jewry of identifying future leaders of the community.

The audience of potential chief executives, chairs and trustees, aged in their thirties and forties and from across the religious spectrum, were urged to seize leadership roles, to wrestle them from the old guard who have led the community’s organisations for the past 40 years.

Indeed, the “Gamechangers” had just completed months of project work and training aimed at setting them on the path to become the next Gerald Ronson, Sir Trevor Chinn and Sir Mick Davis.

But what strikes you most about those names? Yes, they are three hugely successful businessmen and philanthropists. But they are also three grey-haired, multi-millionaire men aged 77, 81 and 59 respectively.

Experience, wealth, impact — a triumvirate of qualities that help to make them effective leaders, as adept at pushing prime ministers into considering the community’s concerns as they are at encouraging fellow major donors to part with their money and fund huge projects that would otherwise never move beyond conception.

Now, 18 months after that speech, as Sir Mick prepares to leave his role as JLC chairman, he has again repeated his concerns. In his valedictory letter to members he noted: “We cannot sustain our strategic advantage unless new, inspiring and competent future leaders are willing and able to take the helm.”

No one would suggest a revolution could be enacted in under two years, but this theme has been revisited for decades.

Jonathan Goldstein, the front-runner who is almost guaranteed to be Sir Mick’s successor, has an impeccable CV. He has experience of being a key figure at some of the country’s largest firms, including Heron, Saatchi and Olswang. And, at 50, he is, admittedly, younger than the aforementioned big beasts.

His likely promotion highlights the community’s dilemma, however. As Mr Ronson’s protégé, he can be expected to have learned the ropes and gained experience that will, hopefully, benefit Anglo-Jewry.

But how can these roles be opened up to those who are not part of that inner circle? How can others gain the knowledge and expertise needed to run our institutions unless they are backed by the rich men who, in the case of the JLC at least, set up the organisation? Irrespective of their qualities, the 16 Gamechangers participants would not currently get a look in for such a role.

Assuming Mr Goldstein will serve as JLC chair for eight or so years, there is little prospect of a fresh face finding an opportunity to take the community forward before 2025.

Sir Mick says we need “inspiring and competent” people who are “willing and able”. Such individuals exist, and they have impressive accomplishments. Take Richard Verber, a leading figure at World Jewish Relief and already a Board of Deputies vice-president. Or Danny Stone, at the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, whose work has been recognised with an MBE. What about Luciana Berger, Britain’s youngest Jewish MP, who has been in the Commons for seven years and can expect to find herself in the cabinet should Labour ever find a way back into power?

All three are in their thirties, with proven track-records coupled with obvious leadership qualities. But how long would they have to wait if they sought opportunities to lead, or become the figurehead of, major communal organisations? How long would they be willing to wait?

Some will argue the problem is inherent in the JLC’s raison d’etre. They will call it an old boys’ club put together by those with money to ensure they have a seat round the table with the great and the good. Others will quite rightly say women are under-represented in these roles. Both are valid arguments for another day.

But a time is coming when the old guard will no longer be around. Surely it is essential to do everything possible to give capable, younger figures better chances sooner rather than later.

Leave them to wait for another decade and we risk losing an entire generation of potential future leaders.

April 12, 2017 10:34

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