bckr | A Flair For The Quirky & Unusual – Summary Of Our Meeting with Lloyd Dorfman
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A Flair For The Quirky & Unusual – Summary Of Our Meeting with Lloyd Dorfman

A Flair For The Quirky & Unusual – Summary Of Our Meeting with Lloyd Dorfman

We were delighted to welcome Lloyd Dorfman to BCKR this week.

Lloyd is a leading British businessman and philanthropist. After a brief time at the Bar, Lloyd founded the currency exchange group Travelex. He is a major supporter of the arts – the Dorfman Theatre is named after him and he has a great deal of experience as a Non Executive Director – notably at the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House and the Roundhouse. He is also governor of St. Paul’s School, a trustee of the Prince’s Trust and an Honorary Fellow of St. Peter’s College, Oxford.

Here is a summary of what he shared with us this week;

Lloyd started his career in the City in 1973, and having flirted briefly with a Legal career, worked for his father-in-law, at a very volatile time, with crisis after crisis (including spiraling Oil prices, the ‘three-day week’, industrial unrest, 83% top-rate tax, exchange controls etc.). But Lloyd always wanted to start ‘a real business’ so, with a loan of £25,000; in 1976 he started Travelex (though that name was only applied in the mid 80’s). He began with a small (unregulated) shop, where he was the only employee and went on to build a global brand that is recognised worldwide. Lloyd still retains 10% of the equity and it has been an amazing journey.

Turning to boards, and the choice of NEDs for Travelex and its subsidiaries, Lloyd has often opted, successfully, for what he describes as the ‘ quirky and unusual ‘, providing diverse experience and viewpoints to his boards. For example, he appointed Sir John Stevens, who was retiring as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to his board, which sent a powerful statement internally and externally about the company’s adherence to and concern for regulatory and security matters (including anti-money laundering issues). Stevens was a man who had run a team of 40,000 people but who was, at that point, totally new to the concept of profit.

Another unusual NED appointment was that of Adam Gilchrist, the former Australian Test captain, to the board of Travelex Australia/Pacific. Lloyd had previously met him, and later was present at a Test match when Adam famously, ‘walked’ when erroneously given ‘not out’ by the umpire. Lloyd considered this to be a great display of sportsmanship and integrity. He realised that Adam’s cricket career entailed constant international travel and so he bring relevant perspectives; equally he would not shrink from asking the ‘dumb question’ – that the other board members might be afraid to ask!

With regards to Lawyers Lloyd feels that (as with Accountants) they are hard to differentiate in terms of a potential board contribution. However, one area of growing relevance and concern is that of compliance (and therefore Risk). This is an area where Lloyd thinks Lawyers can make a particular contribution – it is one of the few business issues with the power to’ keep him awake at night! And he acknowledges that Lawyers on Boards can really come to the fore when “stuff happens” – i.e. they have an understanding of contractual sensitivities, compliance issues and have analytical skills – having these available on the board has great value – as is widely recognised on US boards.

On the downside, Lloyd feels that lawyers can be less helpful in the boardroom when they highlight only the problems and risks, and sometimes contribute very little to finding practical solutions. He has seen this first hand, and finds that irritating. Nonetheless, Lawyers have the advantage of the huge breadth of relevant experience gained during their careers, particularly commercial corporate lawyers.

Finally, Lloyd highlighted examples of lawyers who have made successful transitions into the board room, including:

David Gold (ex Herbert Smith) is using his experience to assist in the area of compliance (BAE Systems etc.)
Brook Land (ex Nabarro Nathanson) has chaired RPS plc, Medal plc. and was a NED at Signet plc. Lloyd has served with him on a NFP trust board, where his lawyer’s perspective was very valuable.
Tony Grabiner – (ex High Court judge) was a Bank of England NED, Chair of Arcadia Ltd, etc.
Anthony Salz – (ex Freshfields) is Chair of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. ex- Board of Governors of The BBC, etc.
Edward Walker-Arnott (ex Herbert Smith) Board of Governors, Wellcome Trust; extensive NED experience in manufacturing, pharma, insurance and private equity.