Finding your voice as a leader with Lord Browne of Madingley in conversation with Judge Robert Rinder

Disclaimer : The wording of this transcript is not 100% accurate, this is due to the pace of the live interview & my typing speed. For example, I have restructured the questions after making a brief note of the theme whilst listening to the interview. Direct quotations are clearly indicated.

Judge Rinder : Lord Browne, I believe you have a personal connection to Holocaust through your mother, Paula. Could you tell us a little about that?

Lord Browne : My mother Paula was a survivor of Auschwitz. She was Hungarian, originally from Transylvania. She helped Jews try to escape but caught towards the end and transported to Auschwitz. The rest of my mother’s family were murdered. “When she was liberated, she set her face forward”. She didn’t talk about the past very much, and when she did she spoke of “several chapter’s”: Hungary, her marriage to father, and finally me, her. When I asked her what happened between Hungary & marrying my father, she said: “That wasn’t a life, and you asked me about life.”

Lord Browne did not really know much about this ‘inbetween’ chapter until his mother’s death, 20 years ago.

Judge Rinder ; My grandfather never told me about his experience either. But learning about his experience has given me a sense of responsibility, framed my philosophy. What has it meant to you, to be a 2nd generation survivor?

Lord Browne : My mother taught to deal with people on merits, not what thought about before meeting them. You form an opinion after speaking to someone, not because they’re a Jew, Muslim, from north of England – don’t characterise them. She said: “Never tell anybody a secret because they will surely use it against you. Never really stand out, be careful when you stand out because someone will hurt you. The minority always get hurt by the majority.” This discouraged me to come out as gay until I was outed at 60. It deeply angers me to see bigotry survive. We need to root it out and be vigilant at all times. An awful lot of the time, the world is a bigot. We need to make sure it doesn’t hurt humanity as we go forwards.

Judge Rinder : When you heard your mother’s story, how did that feel? Did that change you?

Lord Browne : It made me admire my mother even more, to have come through this and be a pretty balanced person. She would never travel on the underground because she was involved in slave labour underground. She never travelled in lift. “Otherwise, she was a forward-looking person. It reminded me of the horror and pain human beings can give other human beings. It reminded that I had lost a whole family through the hands of wickedness. This should never happen again.” I can’t do this myself, but I can be joined by people who can help.

Judge Rinder : My grandfather wouldn’t go underground either. In fact, it was an inherited trait as my mother won’t either. It highlights the impact that trauma has had, and this is something I think is underdiscussed. Have you been to Auschwitz, and what do you think the significance of the HET programme is?

Lorde Browne : I have visited twice. The second time was with HET, this was more memorable. “I was able to see it through the eyes of the people around me. How it was affecting them, and how their eyes had been opened when they saw a factory of death. Of course, it’s all cleaned up, it’s all a display.” “Mother refused to go, despite planning many times. 2 weeks before it got cancelled every time.” We did go to Holocaust Memorial museum in Washington. I was very affected by it when I  left; I cried. It’s a museum, it doesn’t smell, and there’s no noise.

Judge Rinder : You are a very celebrated leader. “HET ambassadors are true articulation of leadership within their communities.” Could you explain what your core values as a leader are, and describe what qualities the ambassadors should try to carry as “agents of change”.

Browne : Ambassadors are important. It is one thing for people like me to talk about my experiences. I am several generations away from people who need to think about the shape of humanity going forward. It is better if people of one generation share their experiences with same generation; this is much more effective. It allows us to communicate really well.

Judge Rinder : Going back to what you said earlier, my grandfather never pushed himself forward, as those who did put themselves forwards in the camps ended up with most damaging work. Lord Browne, you wrote The Glass Closest, where you talk about the importance of being yourself. Why is being honest and authentic important to you?

Lord Browne : I was not consistent with what thought after coming out. I was 60 years old, the law was constantly changing. When I was outed, I thought to myself that maybe the world would end and no one would talk to me when I was gay. This turned out not to be the case. In fact, I gained more friends and more business contacts – even in the Middle East and The Gulf. The only negative comment I had was from President Putin who misinterpreted something I said about sending gay people to Russia. It taught me how important it is to have role models, signals from the top, support groups. It turns out I did, they just didn’t identify themselves until I did. I am delighted to see how much has changed, though a lot still hasn’t. People are still concerned about being themselves. They want to be what other people want them to be and that’s very concerning.

Judge Rinder : “I want to thank you personally for your book.” It was “massively courageous” and very important to me. The aim of HET is to learn and to share. To articulate the impact of prejudice of every colour and stripe. There are many things in the present that look dangerously similar to the past, and there is a worrying inability to listen to each other with presence of social media. Do you feel hopeful for the future, and if so what’s your message?

Lorde Browne : “I always feel hopeful for the future. I am a firm believer that the best is yet to come. COVID 19 is huge tragedy, but it has accelerated the future. Trends have been pushed forward strongly – both good & bad. Some things that were annoying may not be. Some things that were damaging may come out and be good for the future.” For example, A.I. We have acknowledged that we need more help with what we do, communication in business. Other things that have to be accelerated – shares of profit that went to capital and labour in wrong portions. This has been exposed and will have to change as we go forward. Privacy – we will have to discuss what is meant by that. We will need to let go of some privacy as result of illness, but where is the balance?

Judge Rinder  : What are your thoughts on the role of ambassador community. How would you really describe their ‘awesome’ responsibility?

Lorde Browne : “They are the flame of the candle.” They will speak to people of their generation, who in turn will speak to the next generation. They will do it because they understand the context – how to connect past to today. They will understand much better than people outside of that generation.

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