October 7, 2011 10:03 pm

Reformer with a City view

The lawyer who played a key role in opening up US markets wields a powerful CV and says it’s crucial not to panic in today’s crisis

Wedged into a cream-coloured bookcase in the Thames-side apartment of Barbara Thomas, Lady Judge are 17 gold-embossed prize books from NYU Law School. When Judge, who graduated second in her class, one of only a handful of women, applied to her first firm, she got some advice from the lawyer who interviewed her.

“He said ‘you’re going to have a lot of offers because we all need a woman. Decide on the job by where you like the curtains best,’” recounts Judge, a New Yorker who now has dual US/UK citizenship. “I decided to go to another firm.” Today, that same interviewer might be gobsmacked to read the powerful CV of the recruit he once treated so flippantly, though Judge admits that appearances may have been deceptive: “I had long blonde hair and wore very short skirts.”

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Now 64, with a slew of international clients and directorships, Judge has recently stepped down as chairwoman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and become chairwoman of the Pension Protection Fund of the UK. Among her many titles, she is a trustee of an institute at the Wharton School where she was the first woman on the Board of Overseers, an adviser for Abu Dhabi nuclear project, and a member of the Trilateral Commission. As a long-term London resident, she was recently given the CBE by the Queen.

By her early thirties, Judge had already made a mark: as the youngest commissioner in the history of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, she played a key role in opening up US markets to foreign investors: “I was interested in foreign interdependence of securities, that people would be buying stocks of other countries. In America we had walls around us.” Judge also negotiated the opening up of the Tokyo Stock Exchange to foreign members.

There are no curtains to block the striking London views from the high-rise residence Judge shares with her third husband, Sir Paul Judge, benefactor of the Cambridge Judge Business School. Lady Judge, who greets visitors at the apartment door, has long-since traded her long hair and miniskirts for an elaborate bun, blue suits and high-necked white shirts. “Early in my career, I put my hair up, my skirts down, my collars up in an old-fashioned way.”

Judge started collecting porcelain when she lived in Hong Kong

Judge started collecting porcelain when she lived in Hong Kong where she was the first woman director of the London Merchant Bank

A hall with blue-striped wallpaper and a blue carpet opens into a double-sized reception room with dramatic wall-to-ceiling windows on three sides. “I can see the City from there,” says Judge, pointing to a beige, early 19th-century sofa. Jutting up behind the spires of Westminster Cathedral are the skyscrapers of London’s financial district, perfectly framed by glass.

The Judges refurbished their contemporary apartment in 2003, adding more traditional features. They replaced original doors with maple ones, complete with crystal doorknobs, and put in mouldings, fittings and shelves. They divided the large front space by creating three separate sitting areas, furnished with a mix of English, French and Chinese antiques. “I love Asian furniture and porcelain,” says Judge, who started collecting porcelain in Hong Kong where she was the first woman director of the London Merchant Bank. The room features Japanese urns, carved Chinese side-tables, and a Hong Kong-made gold screen. “We thought we’d blend the best of the late 18th- and early 19th-century cultural capitals of the world.”

Arranged on a side wall are two anonymous, 18th-century paintings of Thames life. “They were a present from my husband,” she says.

Back in the corridor hangs an eye-catching etching of another river scene, in three panels, across from a blue-tiled kitchen. Around the corner are two antique barometers: “My husband likes barometers and maps,” says Judge. A corner dining room, painted red, abuts a pantry; “I’ve always liked red walls. It’s a great colour at night.”

The dining table, set before spectacular City views

The dining table, set before spectacular City views, seats 20 and is also used for board meetings

More wall-sized windows – also curtain-free – offer spectacular views. A long table, placed diagonally, seats 20. “I like 18 better for dinner. We also use this for board meetings.” Wall panels, designed in China, were made to fit the room. Judge draws attention to electric sockets that were painted into the panels. “I’m a detail person. I did the same thing in the bedroom. We lost the lights.”

Indeed, in the bedroom, blue Liberty wallpaper has been reproduced onto the bases of reading lamps; “An artist came to paint them.” Also on display in the bedroom is a formal full-length portrait of Judge in an evening gown, by Félix de Cossio, a Cuban refugee artist. “He painted Betty Ford. He liked to paint women. And his wife painted flowers.” By the bed is a photograph of a cheerful-looking older woman; “This is my late mother-in-law. I loved her.”

Judge credits her own mother, 88, a dean at the New York Institute of Technology who retired only this year, for her strong work drive. “She said, ‘You have to have your own career, independence.’ She taught women in the mid-1950s to wear gloves, write a CV.” Judge, who skipped two school grades to take a college scholarship when finances were tight, has always worked; “I had to work through school. I was a model, a waitress.” She took only 12 days off when her son, now 28, was born, though at one point, reduced her workload to help with school work. She encourages women “to learn accountancy”. “That’s where the power lies. Lawyers run America and they don’t know accountancy, finance.”

Judge taught herself finance at the SEC. “I got on a plane with my yellow pads and went to New York, to the trading floors.” She lobbied for open markets after writing a law review article “on whether it was in US interests to let foreigners raise capital in American markets”. And in 1982 she wrote a popular article, “Thoughts While Shaving”, predicting that “one day, men shaving would turn on the radio and listen to what happened in Tokyo and was happening in London”.

Out in the reception room, the bookcase also harbours hardbound copies of Judge’s speeches from the SEC. Was there resistance to Judge’s open-markets campaign? “I got hate mail: ‘Dear Commissioner Thomas, stick to your knitting ...’ or ‘Put people in jail.’ I didn’t want to put anyone in jail. I had this belief that stocks of other countries could be a hedge against economies.” Even the US Treasury got into the act when the SEC opened up the Tokyo Stock Exchange. “They said my achievement was form over substance. But,” she gestures across the room, “I knew from collecting porcelain that in Japan, form counts.”

At the end of the visit, Judge reveals her home office; a guest bedroom smothered in files. “I wasn’t going to show you this room but it’s where I work. I have to work tonight. Lawyers live by files.” Is she pessimistic about the current crisis?

torchères

“It’s important not to panic and not to over-regulate. We have a lot of tools if we just use them. We can think ourselves out of these problems.”

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FAVOURITE THINGS

“I love these 18th-century torchères,” says Judge of two standing, gold-painted candelabras by the window. “They’re so tall and elegant. And so intricately done. I love that people don’t know how to carve like this today. I don’t like modern furniture. I like craftsmanship. And they’re so English and so beautiful. I studied English History in college. I wrote my thesis on Bad King John, who lost the Crown Jewels in the Wash.”

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