In 2021 a judge cleared Crispin Odey of indecent assault for an alleged workplace-related incident that took place 20 years earlier. The Judge told the eccentric hedge fund millionaire and founder of Odey Asset Management (OAM) that he could leave the courtroom with his “good character intact” and congratulated Odey on reaching his 60s “without a stain on your character”.
Two years later and Odey’s reputation lies in tatters following an exposé by the Financial Times and Tortoise Media, which recounted numerous further allegations of sexual misconduct against Odey by former female employees who worked with him over a 25-year period.
Odey has been removed from the hedge fund he founded, and several big banks and financial services companies have severed their ties with OAM. The fear of these companies’ reputations being damaged by association with OAM will have been a major factor. At the time of writing, the FCA has widened its investigation into Odey but there have been no legal or regulatory findings against him. Odey and his lawyers continue to refute the allegations and defend his position.
What can we learn from Odey’s spectacular fall from grace? Firstly, investigative journalism is alive and kicking. This wasn’t the first time the media had reported on the allegations surrounding Odey.
However, the FT and Tortoise Media’s in-depth articles, and the dossier of interviews they gathered from women who had previously stayed silent, were explosive in determining Odey’s future at OAM. Remember the FT broke The Presidents Club story and has reported extensively on similar sexual misconduct allegations surrounding the CBI. When the FT breaks these stories, the City reacts.
Secondly, in post-#MeToo world, institutionalised bad behaviour won’t stand the test of time.
Workplace behaviours tolerated 20 years ago aren’t tolerated today. This presents challenges for organisations and their advisors including lawyers and PRs, particularly when historic and newer allegations of alleged wrongdoing are still being investigated internally or by a regulator.
There is due process to those investigations that can be harmed by premature publicity.
At the same time, companies must decide how they deal with any toxicity within their organisations before it becomes endemic. Cultural toxicity can lead to reputational toxicity: for OAM, it’s been reported partners of the firm knew about Odey’s alleged behaviour for up to 16 years.
Finally, many are pointing to the Odey revelations as being the ‘Weinstein moment’ for the City. The FCA is currently investigating up to 40 non-financial conduct complaints involving allegations of sexual misconduct.
As the Odey and CBI revelations show, victims of alleged sexual misconduct are increasingly prepared to go to the media to provide the checks and balances when they feel legal or regulatory routes aren’t working. In this sense, the media can be seen to be acting as the ‘fourth estate’ – which itself poses interesting questions. What is clear is that for anyone who doubts the media’s ability to make or break an individual’s or company’s reputation, the Odey headlines and their impact speak for themselves.