Sir Nicholas Young joins select group of Outstanding Leaders
Sir Nicholas accepted the award before an audience that included his wife and three sons and more than 800 peers and colleagues from the sector.
In a charming acceptance speech, he paid tribute to his wife Helen and three sons and said that working in the voluntary sector was a "fantastic privilege".
"I’m not often reduced to silence but I’m close to that this evening," he said. "This is the icing on the cake, it is a fantastic privilege to lead voluntary organisations and those of us that do it are very lucky indeed."
Sir Nicholas has been chief executive of the British Red Cross since 2000 but this is in fact his second stint at the international aid agency; he also spent five years as director of UK operations from 1990 to 1995. In between he was chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, a role for which he was awarded a knighthood in 2000.
He didn’t always work in the voluntary sector – he had a successful ten-year career as a commercial lawyer after leaving university, but never really felt fulfilled by it. A call to his nearest charity led to a five-hour meeting with one Lady Sue Ryder and the rest, as they say, is history.
Last night he said: “I feel very lucky to have got out of the law, leading takeovers and mergers - it wasn’t where I was meant to be. My partners in the law thought I was completely mad, they assumed I was having a nervous breakdown and asked me if I was going off to knit my open-toed sandals in the voluntary sector. And in 1985 the sector was a fairly woolly sort of place."
But he was lucky, he said, to work with some great leaders – "Lady Ryder and Leonard Cheshire, Mike Whitlam, and the redoubtable Lady Limerick, who was chair of trustees when I first joined the Red Cross. She chaired a board comprising something like 25 society ladies in hats and a field marshal. And the society ladies would all hang back to hear what this field marshal said before they would come in and give their view.
"It was Lady Limerick who summoned me to her office when I first joined and said ‘Mr Young, you’re new, aren’t you. If you want to change things in the Red Cross it’ll take five years.’ My heart sank. Then she said: ‘If you want to do it quickly, it’ll take ten!’ But she wasn’t far wrong, that’s one of the challenges of working in the voluntary sector, it does take time. People are very passionate about what they do. I’m very lucky to lead a really committed organisation of really great people. It’s a team effort and I really want to say thank you to you all, for the fabulous work you do and the support you’ve given me in allowing me to be leader of the British Red Cross."
Over the years he has also contributed to a raft of government and sector advisory panels, forums and committees, he chairs a small English language charity, and he mentors emerging leaders in the sector.
In winning this prestigious award, Sir Nicholas joins a select fellowship of sector leaders that have had enormous impact on civil society and the people it exists to help. Click here to see past winners.