If Loretta Minghella ever stops to think that after HM The Queen and the Prime Minister, she is the most senior lay member of the Church of England she is determined not to let it worry her. Nor does the fact that on the Board of the Church Commissioners women are outnumbered by men in a ratio of 3 to1 particularly faze her. Her vision is to bring greater diversity, not only to the Commissioners but to the boardrooms of the companies the Church invests in.
She comes from a talented family, (her brother, the late Anthony Minghella won an Oscar for his directing of ‘The English Patient’). which originated in Italy and made its home in Scotland and a couple of generations later became a key element of the community in the Isle of Wight, establishing the famous Minghella ice cream brand in the 1950’s
“I was born at home in Ryde on the Isle of Wight on 4 March 1962, the 4th child of Gloria and Edward Minghella. I have a younger brother Dominic who also lives in Dulwich - we now get on famously though we squabbled like mad when we were children! I grew up on the Island, working in my parents' cafe in Ryde, which had a little ice cream factory at the back. My first job was putting on the jingle on my Dad's ice cream van as a pre-schooler. I first looked after the whole business at 12, when my parents went to the Ice Cream Alliance Conference for a week, leaving me in charge. All five of us kids were expected to take responsibility for whatever needed doing - front of house and behind the scenes - and just get on with it!
My Mum died in 2014. She was a huge influence on all of us. She was a hugely compassionate person, who would open her purse at the first sign of someone in need, was a prodigious charity organiser and fundraiser and president of everything locally from the Citizens Advice Bureau to the Motor Neurone Disease Association to the IoW Music Festival. She was a hardworking local politician (standing proudly on an Independent ticket) and the local Mayor, a long serving magistrate and a Deputy Lieutenant. My Dad turned 97 in June. Thanks to my niece, he can now be seen on YouTube, demonstrating his own recipes (eg vegetarian lasagne - delicious).
I was educated at Catholic schools on the Island until I was 16, then at school in the USA for a year (on an American Field Service scholarship), then back to the Island for 6th form, before going to Clare College, Cambridge in 1981. My first proper job was as an articled clerk and then a solicitor at Kingsley Napley, I'd wanted to be a criminal lawyer since I was 10 and this I thought would be my first and last job, as it was absolutely what I saw myself doing until retirement.”
Loretta moved into Court Lane in 2001 with her husband Christopher , their daughter then aged 7 and son aged 3. She found Dulwich to be an ideal peaceful community in walking distance to the park, local shops and a manageable commute. It had good schools and her sister lived in East Dulwich and her brother in West Dulwich. She had ceased to be a practising Catholic and her initial contact with the Church of England came on Christmas Eve that year, when the family went to St Barnabas “ as a distraction for the children. We all enjoyed it as a pre-Christmas outing but I wouldn't say it felt like anything more than that. Then in the spring of 2002 I went back. My daughter had had a friend to stay over on a Saturday night and her parents asked if we could drop her up at the church on the Sunday for the 9.30 choir rehearsal. Her parents said 'you can stay if you like'.... so we did! I was completely overwhelmed with the sense of being home, like a prodigal daughter, fully known and fully welcomed and fully loved. It was utterly unexpected and life-changing - and not straightforwardly so, given my family circumstances. It caused deep consternation amongst some of my nearest and dearest (like my non-religious husband) and deep upset with others for joining an Anglican church. But my daughter and I have been going to St Barnabas ever since and I feel enormously lucky to be part of the community and to have sung in the choir since 2002.”.
Loretta changed career, from being a lawyer, where she was both a defence attorney and a prosecutor and into the world of financial regulation. She helped set up the Financial Services Authority in the 1990’s and was its first Head of Enforcement Law, Policy and International Co-operation. In 2004 she was appointed CEO of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and was there when the banking crisis hit in 2007 with the run on Northern Rock. “I was still there the following year when several banks failed in quick succession and I got a call on Saturday 27th September 2008 telling me that Bradford & Bingley had gone bust and I had to negotiate a £14billion loan on a Saturday night, which was quite a tall order. I ended up overseeing the payment of £21bn in compensation to consumers.” “It was a bit hair-raising at times”, she remarked wryly.
Her brother Anthony died when she was in the middle of dealing with the financial crisis. “It was the most horrendous shock and so very public. But it taught me life is short, and it gave me the courage to go for a complete change of direction - to a heart and soul job running Christian Aid in 2010. That was the most incredible privilege - one of the great aid agencies, CA has programmes across the world, working with local partners bringing emergency relief when typhoons, earthquakes and other catastrophes strike and supporting long term development, whilst campaigning to change the structures and systems that keep people poor.
It was really eye opening for me to see what poverty looks like close up. The first person I met on a visit to our projects overseas was a young woman in a Nairobi slum contemplating trading her virginity to pay to bury her own father. I met people struggling to overcome the trauma of natural disasters like the Haiti Earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillippines. But also people struggling in conflict zones in places like Gaza and South Sudan. What stays with you is the dignity, generosity and resilience of so many people in extreme poverty and how much people are capable of when you can affirm their self-respect and our common humanity”
Loretta remained at Christian Aid from 2010 to 2017. “ I was very conscious of how much I depended on people - but especially my husband and my children - to get on with the daily routine without me. I think it's hard to be a good CEO and be a great spouse and parent at the same time.”
Thirteen years of being a CEO, Loretta felt, was enough, perhaps it was time for something less stressful. She says “The demands on the international NGO (non-governmental organisation) sector are greater than ever - climate change, conflict, natural disaster, rising inequality are all exacerbating poverty. At the same time, trust in institutions of all kinds, including INGOs, has taken a sustained battering. But Christian Aid has a strong vision, support from 41 Christian denominations, thousands of great staff and volunteers and a strong Board of trustees. I am confident it will continue to do fantastic work. Agencies without those pillars of strength will be more vulnerable and I expect to see more consolidation in the sector over time”.
When she was headhunted for the post of First Church Commissioner in 2017 she exchanged one kind of stress for another, not only being ultimately responsible for the Church’s financial assets but also aware that they should be invested ethically as well as profitably.
“I do feel a great responsibility to do my very best for the Church in this time of great societal need. We are running schools, lunch clubs, parent and toddler groups, night shelters, food banks etc as well as places of worship, largely through volunteers. The Commissioners manage the endowment and generally contribute around 15% of the Church's expenditure each year: £226m in 2017. We fund clergy pensions and support the ministry of Bishops and Cathedral deans and 2 residentiary canons per cathedral. We provide funding for ministry in lowest income communities round the nation and for strategic development for growth in areas of particular need and opportunity. We also get involved in deciding on reorganisation of parish boundaries and repurposing of closed churches. One project I'm currently chairing involves a new building for Lambeth Palace Library, probably the most important collection of religious books and documents outside the Vatican.”
The Church of England continues to maintain its ancient parish system whereby every person is able to seek the comfort it can offer. In rural districts this tests the CofE in terms of manpower and maintenance. Loretta says “ It's important to me that the Church flourishes across the nation and doesn't become something which is only available in the nice parts of cities and towns. I think we need to be very imaginative - maintaining thousands of listed buildings is hugely expensive and people are worshipping in all kinds of different ways these days. So yes I do want us to maintain our presence in every community - but how we do that is already looking very different now than it did even 10 years ago, and I expect it to go on changing.
Loretta Mingehella would make a good politician; she is thoughtful, thorough and persuasive. She laughingly acknowledges that she would like to represent the Commissioners in Parliament but that seat is traditionally reserved for the Second Estates Commissioner, instead Loretta represents the Commissioners at the General Synod and it was there, in July that she made her first presentation on its behalf on the ethics of Climate Change. The Church Commissioners have settled on a new strategy of not necessarily disinvesting from companies who contribute towards global warming but rather to try to persuade them to change. In her speech, Loretta used an example from her experience with Christian Aid during the floods in the Philippines. The new strategy was given an overwhelming vote of confidence by extending the cut-off date from disinvesting from 2020 to 2023 to see if the system will work. It certainly worked in the dealings with the American oil giant Exxon Mobil when the Commissioners were able to muster the support of 62% of the company’s investors at its AGM to force the company to engage seriously with them on the issue if they want continued investment. Other major companies like Shell and BP are now sitting up and taking notice of the persuasive powers of the Church Commissioners.
This policy of engaging with the boards of the companies in which they invest has already had other successes for the Commissioners. The contentious subject of excessive executive pay has begun to deliver good results and the matter of diversity on company boards is likely to be the next challenge. On average, less than a quarter of the boards are composed of women and the Commissioners would like to increase this presence to the minimum of a third. Loretta comments, “Business needs a social licence to operate, aligned to higher purpose. Companies must discover the purpose of their business.”
On the question of Brexit she observes, “it adds to our economic uncertainty amongst other things. and there are other geopolitical pressures, like Trump's liking for tariffs, which will affect markets. The best defence against these uncertainties is to be well diversified, which we are, across asset classes and geographies. I am supporting a decision to increase this rather than the reverse and have been revisiting our currency hedging strategy to make it more resilient for these uncertain times. On the property side, the pressures on retail are immense but our commercial property is not limited to retail. We have an obligation as part of our fiduciary duty to obtain best value on our investments. Within this context, one of the areas of investment I'm pushing is for greater investment in renewable energy and for as much affordable housing as possible within our new residential developments.”
In her spare time Loretta enjoys music and as an inheritance from her musical family likes singing around the piano. Theatre and family, not necessarily in that order, deliver relaxation .Her wish-list includes conducting a study of comparative history - when she can find the time!
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