Parting shot: Sir Nicholas Young

The outgoing chief executive of the British Red Cross says he made a financial sacrifice to join the charity sector, but never regretted it

Sir Nicholas Young
Sir Nicholas Young

After 13 years, it's probably the right time for the organisation and me, but my son's recent death was devastating and brought the decision forward. I need time with my wife and other two boys to absorb what has happened. It's horrible to leave in such circumstances. I've received hundreds of cards, letters and emails. The Red Cross is like a family. I'll miss that and the sense of passion and comradeship. I'll also miss being at the heart of world and individual events and feel privileged to have been part of an organisation that aims to be there at the critical moment.

Some people thought I was taking leave of my senses when I left my career as a commercial lawyer in 1985 to join the voluntary sector. But I didn't feel like I was making a difference to people's lives, just helping big companies get bigger. I had three kids under five, a large mortgage and took a 60 per cent drop in salary to work at Sue Ryder, but never regretted it. It felt like I'd been picked up and put down in the right place. I've worked with two of the greatest philanthropists of our time – Sue Ryder and Leonard Cheshire – then at two great charities, Macmillan and the British Red Cross.

Having made such a financial sacrifice, it was hurtful when my salary was questioned last year – I'd have made much more in the commercial sector. I am well paid, but it's a huge job with huge responsibilities. My knighthood in 2000 was unexpected and I had to be persuaded to take it because I felt others deserved it more. But it was also a vindication for me in relation to those who thought I was going off to knit my own open sandals when I joined the sector.

The British Red Cross helps people in crisis around the world

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