Tuesday22 August 2017

Harry Rich resigns from RIBA

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Controversial chief exec stands down after six years

The chief executive of the RIBA, Harry Rich, is to step down from the organisation next month after six years, the institute announced today.

In a statement the RIBA said Rich would be replaced by the current interim director of finance & operations, Alan Vallance, who would take over chief executive responsibilities from February 1.

An RIBA spokesperson said Vallance would take on the job on an interim basis for a year, and that Rich would be around and available “for some time” to ensure a smooth transition.

Rich said: “I have had the privilege of being chief executive of this wonderful and unique organisation for six years. During that time RIBA staff and members together have delivered so much and have innovated and changed what we do and how we do it to make us fit for the future. This feels like a good moment to hand over executive leadership as we are about to embark on our next five-year strategy.”

Rich does not have another job to go to, and his departure follows a number of other senior staff, including RIBA director Richard Brindley and chief operating officer Andy Munro, leaving the body last year. A spokesperson said: “Harry will take the time to plan the next stage of his career once he has concluded his responsibilities at the RIBA.”

The body didn’t say anything more to explain why Rich had decided to leave.

Jane Duncan, RIBA president, said: “Harry has worked with dedication and passion to steer the RIBA successfully through a difficult recession. After six years of significant change and innovation he has created a lasting legacy. I know we will all miss him, but the Board has accepted his resignation and I wish him all the very best for his future endeavours.”

Rich has attracted controversy in his time leading the RIBA, which has seen significant organisational change. In 2011 there were reports then RIBA president Ruth Reed attempted to oust him from the role and Walter Menteth proposed and lost a similar vote in 2013.

He has also been associated with RIBA’s high-profile campaigns, such as the HomeWise campaign, during which he branded thousands of homes built by developers as “shameful shoeboxes.”

In December a group of the UK’s leading housing architects collaborated to denounce the RIBA’s HomeWise campaign, saying the body should have worked with housebuilders on improving new home design rather than  launching a “a reckless attack on the house building industry” which they said could end up “alienating an important market for architects’ services.

Statement from Ben Derbyshire, RIBA councillor and managing partner at HTA Design

Harry’s tenure as chief executive coincided with a period of discontinuity in the programmes and priorities of successive Presidents at the RIBA and that created problems for the leadership at the Institute. He concentrated therefore on what he knew best and did well; an outreach programme that raised the profile of Architecture, promoting the brand of the profession.

Ben Derbyshire

Ben Derbyshire

But it was time for a change. I wrote to my fellow Council members last year under the heading ‘Architects Leading’ to suggest that it was time for members to re-take the Institute, drive policy through a more effective Council and become the voice of the profession which had become increasingly articulated by the executive. I don’t think Harry was particularly comfortable with this message.

These are challenging times for Architecture, and indeed all of the professions. Jane Duncan has already done a lot to chart a new course ahead, in particular with the drafting of a soon to be published five year strategy which stresses the importance of ethical practice, collaboration, research and building a body of knowledge that over time will enable the public and our clients to better appreciate the value of Architecture. Now is the time to turn these words to effective action.

And in the short term, there is an urgent task to restore the health of the business. The RIBA is losing market share to ARB and membership, which should have been building steadily since the economy returned to growth, has been flat-lining. I fear the Institute has taken on grandiose and expensive projects which will further distract from the essential task of rebuilding the profession’s fortunes. Finances must be restored and difficult choices made. It would have been difficult for Harry Rich to oversee such choices, for obvious reasons.

So we thank him for his contribution and wish him well for the future but now we must turn to the task ahead. I have already written to Jane Duncan to offer my support in any way I can.



Readers' comments (10)

  • Austin Clegg

    So, the aptly named Rich has fallen on his sword.
    The really interesting thing here is Mr Derbyshire's statement, which is a truly wonderful example of 'positive spin': every phrase means its opposite.
    One of many gems is " The RIBA is losing market share to ARB" as if they were rival organisations- ARB is a statutory registration body and nothing to do with any markets. This sort of sloppy thinking says all one needs to know about the RIBA.

    I wish Mr Rich a long, happy and even more profitable retirement.

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  • Andrew Jones

    "After six years... he has created a lasting legacy."

    For example?

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  • I must say that I am very disappointed with the poor value I feel for one get from the RIBA as a London architect. I can only imagine how non-London architects feel. Portland Place, on the rare occasions that I bother to visit, is typically occupied by non-architects as it has will have been rented out for one non-profession related function or the other. I don't get the 10% discount at the bookshop that I get from my AIA membership...I don't get the comradery that one would expect from being a member. The events are few and far between. In fact other than the rather good magazine, there is precious little that I can point to as a tangible benefit. I hope that the new Chief Executive seeks to address these issues.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    I imagine Harry Rich is leaving because his severance package is irresistibly generous.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    ....and I'll be interested to see how open the selection process is for his replacement.

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  • We wish Harry adieu and a good journey. At this stage in life decisions to move or leave will not come lightly, and must be positively taken, in the interests of all. No doubt Harry has genuine reasons for such a swift dearture. We wish him well. Some avenues may open, the American Friends he inaugurated, may well see his contribution, cultural groups within the political domain likewise, or maybe further ventures in design or even ethics. The RIBA has been troubled in the last years by press over spokesmanship, having clear relevant missions and research, speaking on behalf of it members with a clear appropriate and sensitive voice, having a workplace where members officers and employees feel respected and believe in management creating a 'proper' place to work, where world issues can be taken on, as politics has now proven right, where proper order and protocol is maintained within the leadership of the Institute. Leading such an organisation going forward will need key members to be clear on the role and mission of this Royal Institute, particularly when seen externally on a world stage, members need to be single mindedly (as Ben has pointed out) aligned in strength and sure of their objective.......this will take time. Having an old guard take over either at an executive mentoring level or member mentoring level needs careful clear and thoughtful management. Change will not come easily, despite people seeing the opportunity and uploading aspiration. If the Institute wants to maximise its benefits, this is surely a key time to do this, if not - well then as is popularly siad "Keep Calm and Carry ON", and watch members leave in droves. Ben's views curiously find airplay above others, he cannot be the obly thinking architect can he? He like all others are members, whether or not in a chamber. Jane Duncan's opportunity (and of necessity her fortune) is to guide the right choices, ironically maybe Harry's departure has opened significant opportunities at a key time for the Institute, particularly after such an extended period of consideration and turmoil. The right new 'chief executive' must be carefully chosen.

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  • "...there is an urgent task to restore the health of the business. The RIBA is losing market share to ARB and membership, which should have been building steadily since the economy returned to growth, has been flat-lining."

    I wonder if the RIBA ever stops analysing its member count and cold-calling those on the ARB register to see if they want to take advantage of a discounted RIBA membership and ever stop to think about features & benefits it is affording the person on the other end of the telephone?

    I know I am not alone in saying that I am hugely underwhelmed by the output / offering of the RIBA, occasionally epitomised by some of the utterances and pronouncements of Mr. Rich himself - whose comments, in my opinion, generally demonstrated a deep disconnection with the situation being experienced by practicing architects 'on the ground'. I still remember his "get on your bike" brush-off of the 2008-2013 global recession / depression in 2008 (is it over, or is it in a vegetive state being kept on QE life support?), telling us not to worry, it would be just like the early 80s.

    In 2015 Mr Rich became alerted to the fact that house prices in London were starting to get somewhat unaffordable - potentially out of reach for a project architect on £38K in the capital...

    I'm not trying to single Mr Rich out for special treatment, but its this sort of low quality, unthinking stuff, along with mindless papers, committees for committees' sake that is so alienating for so many practicing architects who aspire to make great buildings and not talk about stuff or spend their lives on twitter.

    Who can forget the RIBA's novel idea of pensioners in the future as global jet setters, desperately trying to burn through their huge pension pots, or volunteering as marketing ambassadors to UK seaside resorts? Or the vast number of competitions it has sponsored, seemingly with only a modicum of due diligence regarding outcome?

    My impression of the RIBA at the moment is as a safe refuge for those who are not particularly notable for anything other than networking, and in a profession which acutely values brilliance, high-quality ideas and execution.

    Until it can tackle these issues and work out a way to make the RIBA be perceived as an aspirational centre of excellence, I cannot see any short-term arrest to the decline in its membership.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    I look forward to the publication of the Collected Works of Harry Rich. As business-speak, his impenetrable prose stands as an example to us all of how not to write.

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  • steven harmer

    I believe he we as paid around £160000, ridiculous,

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  • Seymour Alexander

    Some background info from Abe Hayeem, RIBA, Chair Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine will explain why some of us are delighted to hear of Rich's departure.


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