Harry Rich’s resignation handled in ‘very civilised’ manner, says president

RIBA president Jane Duncan insisted departing chief executive Harry Rich was not the victim of a coup but left of his own volition.

She said his resignation was handled in a “very civilised” and “gentle” manner, while acknowledging that it had happened very quickly.

Discussions between Rich, Duncan and other members of the RIBA Board started last weekend, straight after Rich returned from two weeks’ holiday. “This was initiated by Harry, of course,” said Duncan.

The public announcement was made on Friday afternoon and he leaves at the end of the month.

Rich will be replaced initially by the interim director of finance & operations, Alan Vallance who stood in for him during his holiday.

A recruitment process for a permanent successor is unlikely to be started until after the next Board meeting on February 24 – or possibly even the next meeting of the much larger Council on March 11.

Duncan described Vallance as a “fantastic guy”, while fellow Board member Peter Oborn said: “He’s been very good. He seems to understand the organisation pretty well.”

Oborn insisted Rich’s departure was “totally unconnected” to two reported attempts by elected officials to force him out some years ago.

Rich, who has been in post six years and has been an at times divisive figure, issued a statement saying it “feels like a good moment to hand over”. The institute is about to embark on a new five-year strategy which will take it in a much more member-focused direction.

Rich has been “key” in shaping both the previous and the future strategy, said Duncan.

“Being chief  executive is a difficult position because you can’t please all the people all the time, but he’s taken us through a recession which is not an easy thing to do,” she said.

“He has a lovely legacy which includes a beautiful new gallery. He’s definitely going to stay as a friend of the institute because he’s very passionate about architecture. He’s a very nice man.”

She added it was not uncommon for chief executives to leave quickly once they had decided to go. Six years was also quite a long time for a chief executive to remain in post.

Rich, who is approaching 60 and who is believed to have earnt between £160,000 and £170,000 a year, had “made his mark” on the institute, said Oborn.

“But it’s a very robust institute and we have a robust strategy so I have no doubt whatsoever that we’ll find an appropriate successor who will drive the strategy forward.”

Ben Derbyshire, an RIBA councillor and managing partner at HTA Design, issued a statement on Friday welcoming Rich’s departure, saying it was “time for a change”.

“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,” said Derbyshire.

“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.”

Derbyshire, who was elected to Council in 2014 with John Assael on a joint ticket of “recovering the status of architects”, wrote to his 56 fellow Council members last year suggesting it was time for members to re-take the institute and regain the voice of the profession from the executive.

“I don’t think Harry was particularly comfortable with this message,” said Derbyshire. He denied any involvement in Rich’s departure but said he had already written to Duncan offering his support “in any way I can”.