Institute of Directors at war amid coup to remove chairman

7 March 2018, 22:16

The Institute of Directors‎ (IoD), one of Britain's leading business groups, has been rocked by a boardroom coup aimed at removing its chairman, sparking threats by a string of other directors to quit their roles.

Sky News has obtained documents revealing details of a months-long investigation by Hill Dickinson, a law firm, following allegations by a whistleblower into the conduct of Lady Barbara Judge, the IoD's chairman.

Stephen Martin, the body's director-general, is said to have been one of the complainants against Lady Judge, who is thought to be on the verge of stepping down.

A meeting of the IoD's governing council is understood to have been scheduled for Thursday, at which Dame Joan Stringer, its chair, is expected to press for Lady Judge's departure.

The Times reported on Wednesday night that Lady Barbara's alleged misconduct also included racist and sexist slurs, as well as bullying behaviour towards other IOD staff members.

The bust-up is especially embarrassing for the IoD, which hails itself as a bastion of corporate‎ governance and frequently criticises major companies for perceived failings by boards to manage themselves effectively.

Next week, the group is scheduled to throw open the doors to its Pall Mall headquarters for an event due to be addressed by a senior Cabinet minister, the Apprentice judge Baroness Brady and Mike Flewitt, the boss of McLaren Automotive.

The investigation into complaints against Lady Barbara is estimated to have cost more than £60,000, according to an email from one board director.

In the report by Hill Dickinson, a copy of which has been seen by Sky News, a number of allegations are made against Lady ‎Judge, including that she sought to appoint close allies to the IoD board and used her role to promote her external commercial interests.

A number of other IoD board directors are said to contest the conclusions and accuracy of aspects of the law firm's report.

At least one is seeking the removal of Dame Joan, according to a source close to the situation.

Lady Judge is understood to have instructed the City law firm Addleshaw Goddard to represent her.

Last month, it wrote to the IoD to accuse it of an "utterly flawed and prejudicial handling of this whole matter", according to a letter seen by Sky News.

The IoD is one of Britain's most important business organisations, with tens of thousands of members and an influential voice on issues ranging from Brexit to skills and education.

It was unclear on Wednesday night whether Mr Martin's role was under threat, although at least one board member is said to believe that he should resign.

According to an email sent by Sir Ken Olisa, an IoD board member, Mr Martin‎ "revealed after questioning by a NED [non-executive director] that although he had for many weeks been purporting to be an innocent messenger between the SICM [senior independent council member] and the board, he was in fact one of the 14 authors of the [complaint] whom Dame Joan had consulted on the nature and conduct of the process and who had authorised the £60,000+ of unbudgeted expenditure thus far".

"And to cap it all, it emerged that the [director general] had covertly recorded at least one conversation between himself and the chair!"

An IoD spokesman said: "Our human resources department was made aware of a number of allegations from staff members concerning the conduct of non-executive members of our board.

"Senior Independent Council Member Dame Joan Stringer commissioned a full investigation into the allegations which was carried out by independent experts from the Hill Dickinson law firm.

"Their detailed report and findings will be discussed by members of the IoD Council on Thursday afternoon."