“I opened the door of the Tokyo Stock Exchange to foreign members”

Leader, mentor, inspiration

A conversation with Lady Barbara Judge

Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photo by Benjamin Parks

Lady Barbara Judge has had a singular career, blazing the trail for women into the highest positions in business, and encouraging them to follow. Her extensive list of former and current titles — including commissioner on the US Securities and Exchange Commission, chairman of the UK Pension Protection Fund, and UK Trade and Investment business ambassador — is proof of a life of vision and determination. Now an outside director on the board at LIXIL, a major Japanese housing equipment and building materials manufacturer, Lady Judge has worked with Japanese companies throughout her career and continues to make important contributions to businesses in Japan.


What do you believe is your greatest professional accomplishment?

The most lasting achievement that I feel I’ve made was that I opened the door of the Tokyo Stock Exchange to foreign members. This was when I was a commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

I came to Tokyo, I negotiated with the stock exchange to change the rules so that foreign companies could buy seats. And at the same time, I drafted rules so that Japanese and other foreign companies could come and list their stocks on the American Stock Exchange. This was in the early ’80s, the heyday of big Japanese companies coming to America. And I helped them to do that. So, I have a long history with Japan in my career.

Who have your role models been?

I am known to be, and am, a great promoter of women in the work place. This is because I had the privilege of having an exceptional mother. My mother believed that women should work — in the ’60s she taught a course at New York University called the World of Work for Women — and she believed that women should make their own money, because money is independence; also that they had a brain and they should use it in order to enrich the world and their own lives.

She was a great inspiration to me, and actually started me on the path of working. As a little girl I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I said, “I want to be an actress”. My mother, hearing that, said “We are not having any starving actresses in this family. If you want to act, you can act in front of the jury. Go be a lawyer.” Which is how I got to be a lawyer.

To me, my role model — the person who did it right — is my mother.

Are you finding that some progress is being made with regard to equal treatment for women in the Japanese work place?

I know Prime Minister Abe has great ambitions for women. And I’m very supportive of this. I believe there is some progress, but everything takes time. I think he has raised the ambitions of many companies to hire women. I know that at Tepco [Tokyo Electric Power Company], since I’ve been there, they’ve hired their first women executives. At LIXIL, they have at least four very senior women.

There’s also an effort to recruit many more women at the junior level. The trick is to move them up through the levels so that they can become senior, and to give them jobs with a profit-and-loss responsibility. It’s very difficult to become a senior manager in any company, in any country, if you don’t have experience running a business. That is the key, I believe, for women to succeed.

However, Japan has some particularly difficult obstacles for women. The culture of the company is to work until the middle of the night. And women are also expected to look after their children, and then their in-laws as they age. That’s a very big responsibility, which they are supposed to carry on their own. My opinion is that, until the Japanese government permits more immigration of care-givers, women here will have a hard time. They also won’t be able to manage unless there are enough childcare facilities to allow women to leave their children and go to work.

How do you think the government can better help Japanese women?

My personal suggestion to the Japanese government is that they should be building childcare centres in train stations, where mothers could drop off their child on the way to work. The centres should be open 24 hours a day so women can work quite late, knowing that their child is well cared-for. Then they can pick up their child on their way home from work. If anybody can do it, the Japanese can — it just needs initiative.

In what ways have you been advising LIXIL?

LIXIL is a company that is in the process of internationalising. At each board meeting I try to give the point of view of the international director; I try to say what it is that other companies around the world would be doing in the same situation. I have also been advising LIXIL to be cognisant of corporate governance in other countries.

I participate in a number of women’s network events and women’s leadership conferences. And I’ve been suggesting that women here find sponsors and mentors.

Basically, LIXIL was already on a good path, trying to empower its own women and to promote them. It was already looking forward and into the world, and I’ve been advising them to keep it up and not go backwards.

How specifically have you been mentoring women?

Over the years, I’ve mentored more than 500 women. I advise various companies on women’s issues, give seminars, speeches, and individual counselling to many high-potential women in big companies.

I have a good friend at the Keidanren [Japan Business Federation] who has arranged for me to give some mentoring advice to the Keidanren and various other senior-level women in Japan. I speak about my own career to the extent that they can draw some lessons from what I have learned.

Japan needs the brains of its women. The country has a declining population. It’s not letting in immigrants. In my opinion, the most important thing that should be done now is to eliminate the barriers that we’ve discussed. Since Japan has modernised in so many other ways — it’s the envy of the world in its manufacturing capability — why shouldn’t it be the envy of the world in the utilisation of its own natural resource, its women? 

Career Highlights

1969  Graduated from New York University School of Law.

1978  Became the youngest person to be made partner at a law firm on Wall Street, doing corporate law and securities transactions.

1980  Appointed by President Carter as a commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

1983  Moved to Hong Kong and became the first female director of a British merchant bank, at Samuel Montagu & Co. Japan was part of the territory she covered.

1993  Moved to England and worked as executive director for Rupert Murdoch’s News International.

2004–2010  Chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

2010  Appointed chairman of the UK’s Pension Protection Fund.

2012  Became part of Tepco’s Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee.

2015  Appointed to the board of LIXIL as their first international director.

“Japan needs the brains of its women”