You might think that anyone with stints at Lehman Brothers and WestLB on their CV would struggle to reach the heights of power – but that is not the case for John Godfrey, the new director of policy for recently appointed May.
Euromoney remembers Godfrey well from his time as the chief European spin doctor at Lehman Brothers in London in the mid to late 1990s.
This was very much the era of the rise of Lehman Brothers International – notable for the rise of its fixed income business under Andrew Pisker, and for the steady ascension of Jeremy Isaacs en route to taking over the whole business in EMEA.
Godfrey was always urbane, magnanimous and down-to-earth – perhaps not traits that are all that familiar in the corridors of 10 Downing Street.
It came as a bit of a surprise in 2000 when he jumped ship to run international communications for German bank WestLB. Over the next few years, one of Godfrey’s main tasks was to deal with press attention focused on the principal finance business run by Robin Saunders.
Readers will recall not just the losses that the division racked up, but also the uproar over the fact that those working in the unit had been allowed to make personal investments in companies the bank lent money too. Not a time, then, of compassionate conservatism.
Godfrey spent the last decade running communications at insurer Legal & General (L&G). According to website ConservativeHome: “There he built a reputation as a likeable and effective communicator, who gave the insurer sizeable clout in Whitehall through well-planned interventions.”
Despite a 20-year career in the City, Godfrey was always keen on politics. In the late 1980s, he worked as a special adviser to the Home Office. And in 1995, he took some time off from Lehman in an ill-fated attempt to become an MP in his native Scotland.
Selected to takeover a once-safe Conservative seat, the unpopularity of John Major’s government meant he had little chance of winning. Indeed, the seat of Perth & Kinross ended up going to the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) – one of that party’s first big Westminster successes. It is now the biggest party in Scotland.
With defeat inevitable, Godfrey famously and publicly threw in the towel, encouraging voters to cast for anyone but the SNP. That kind of honesty might be refreshing in Whitehall, even if his pleas then were ignored.
As director of policy, Godfrey will be central to the new administration’s legislative agenda. At L&G, he was a keen proponent of infrastructure investment and the need for more social and affordable housing.
Persistence has paid off for the likeable Godfrey. He has the keys, if not to the front door, then at least to the back door of Number 10.
An article in PR Week in 1996 picked out Godfrey as one of “a growing band of Tory candidates from the PR world like Carlton’s David Cameron”. Whatever happened to him?