PRESERVE THE HISTORIC COMBINE THE MODERN
W Bro Omaid Hiwaizi SLGR zoom interviews RW Bro Sir Michael Snyder MetGM
Sir Michael Snyder has always liked building things. An accountancy firm, which he built from very small to quite large (Moore Kingston Smith, which is now a top 15 UK Accountancy Firm), as an Elected Member of the City of London Corporation- where he led the sponsorship of three City Academies and led the opening of offices in Brussels, India and China.
He was knighted in 2008 for his services to business and to the City of London. He’s currently Chairman of Metro Bank the fast grown challenger bank and has also been a particularly busy man since being Installed as the Metropolitan Grand Master in 2015.
He was charming, humble and personable when we spoke about his journey in Masonry, his vision for the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and his life outside the Craft.
His journey in Masonry.
Sir Michael joined the Craft with a group of friends who were all members of his mother Livery Company (The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers): “We were approached by the Lodge which is associated with the company and we joined more or less together”.
At his initiation he was pretty scared with what was going on, and like many of us it was a bit of a blur.
Now it’s the fellowship and whole ethos which keeps him engaged, and he continues to have a particular soft spot for the Needlemakers Lodge No 4343, which meets at Innholders’ Hall, with his old friends in the Lodge, and the extremely good food!
The Pandemic Response.
He’s quietly confident about how the Metropolitan Grand Lodge responded to the challenges of Covid-19: “It’s a really difficult situation and people are having to adjust dramatically, and as most of what we do is about meeting people, whether that’s in the Lodge or the Chapter, or at the Festive Board afterwards or in other social or charitable environments.
“It’s all to do with people and therefore adjusting to Zoom meetings and Zoom contact, I think we’ve done pretty well. But it isn’t, of course, the same as meeting face to face.”
Sir Michael is also positive about how the Secretariat (led by Metropolitan Grand Secretary David Swain), Deputies, Assistant Metropolitan Grand Masters, Inspectors and numerous other Metropolitan Grand Lodge officers and volunteers have done a remarkable job in keeping things together, thinking of ways to keep people engaged, so that “we can come out of this as soon as we can, and we will have a vibrant Metropolitan Grand Lodge”.
“There’s a balance for the real need of human beings to have direct contact, and the need to be careful about health and transmission of diseases, and while I don’t know exactly where that balance is, we’re all finding our way, it’s new territory for all of us, but from my point of view, we need to get back to where we can have face to face contact in a real way, obviously being mindful of the things we’ve learned from Covid-19.”
On the topic of when masonic dining will resume: “This is a really important part of what we are about – socialising together. I want this to be allowed as soon as we can, but we have to be careful with people’s health. I don’t know for sure when this will be, I guess until there is an effective vaccine, the consensus being sometime next year. I sincerely hope so, and obviously I’d like it sooner than that!
“Meeting in London has the added challenge of the transport, and I am very aware that particularly those in the more vulnerable categories will be very reticent to go on the Underground or in any crowded environment. My feeling is that we may have to develop other ways of trying to get people together, be that by organising some sort of socially distanced transport or people giving lifts. I’m not sure how we do this, and we do need to think how, if we are to encourage brethren who are more vulnerable to attend. Clearly while there restrictions on numbers whether a maximum of 30 – assuming one has large enough room to socially distance 30 people – we are going to have a challenge still. This is clearly made much more difficult if the number reduces to 6!”
5 Years as Metropolitan Grand Master.
Metropolitan Grand Lodge is now over 17 years old, with Sir Michael it’s ruler for 5. It’s been growing from strength to strength: “We have introduced all sorts of measures and initiatives over the last few years to welcome people into the fraternity and to make people feel valued when they’re in, and we do have a LOT of people in Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter. One essential part of what we all do is charitable work, in terms of giving and volunteering and so on. It is really important we make the direct link between what individual members do and the charities. I don’t see that diminishing, I see that going from strength to strength, whether it’s the Air Ambulance, the Fire Service or another charity.”
Sir Michael is happy to admit he’s learned an enormous amount in the job: “I really had no idea of the extent of the management of Metropolitan Grand Lodge. I’ve had enormous help from so many people. It’s the whole team, that is working together, and there’s some really knowledgeable and enthusiastic people.”
There are one or two things he might have done differently: “probably what I would have done earlier is to encourage even more enthusiasm for the Craft, rather than people just accepting what Craft is, what Royal Arch is. I think it’s important that we do celebrate it, and we are enthusiastic about all the good things that it brings.” He did however add: “one of the things I would like to change is the masonic after dinner speech and concentrate on something specific to that Lodge or Chapter. Pure masonic speak is probably feeling a little bit dated for younger members.”
“One of the most important parts of Masonry for me, and seeing in others, is the development of individuals as individuals. I think that is the benefit of being a mason, but it’s not done from the point of view of ‘how does that do in my career’ or ‘how does that do in life’, it’s about how we are as individuals, whether we’ve become more confident about speaking, for example, although maybe that doesn’t apply to me too much!”
Embracing change in Metropolitan.
Sir Michael has presided over a huge increase in the application of technology in London masonry and is clear about the possibilities: “I think technology should play a greater role in all Masonry. By that I mean Project Hermes, which will make a huge difference. There will be a challenge in getting everybody to engage with it, but for me, it is wonderful that a Secretary or Scribe E will be able to update information himself. A lot of the laborious annual returns will be unnecessary, and also the information that’s available to UGLE or Metropolitan Grand Lodge will be much more accurate.” He’s also thoughtfully positive about the role of technology in communication: “Being able to communicate directly with members when we have all of the email addresses for all those who actually use email, and I hope everyone will utilise it even if they haven’t so far. In terms of things like Social media, I think there is a place for it. We do have to be very careful about how it’s deployed because of the risks of misinformation. From my point of view technology is already playing a much bigger role. Over this lockdown period, David Swain and his team and volunteers, have done a most amazing volume of work in updating and cleaning our database, which will be invaluable. Meetings such as this interview across a Zoom call have made a big difference, particularly to the management of Metropolitan Grand Lodge. I can do this with the Management Committee and the Executive. However, we must be cognisant that some of our more senior members don’t feel comfortable with technology, and we need to be appreciative and accommodating of that. Yes, technology is playing a much bigger role in London Freemasonry, and I think it will continue to do so. But there is no substitute for face to face meeting and dining.”
As an experienced businessman he’s implemented a number of structural changes to Metropolitan Grand Lodge: “We’ve pretty well done most of it. I’m not saying there won’t be more to do, and the technological processes and people’s attitudes and customs developing, it will be a constant process of improvement and change. I increased the number of Metropolitan Grand Inspectors so that they didn’t have so many Lodges or Chapters to look after, so they had some chance of helping their ‘units’, and we changed the structure and the way in which everything is reported, the way we discuss things, meetings take defined periods of time and they get managed in that period of time. While the approach is more corporate, you have to remember we are a volunteer organisation, so we haven’t got all the levers you might have in a large commercial organisation. Having said that, people are responding pretty well, and I much prefer the ‘engaged’ or ‘involved’ style rather than ‘dictated’ or ‘lectured at’ style. You have to be very aware of how things are done in today’s society, and we need to reflect that in what we do and the way we do it. We have a pretty good relationship amongst all of those who are involved in management or ruling of Met, and they all contribute to the best of their ability. I’m very happy – the band of volunteers are just amazing at what they do!”
On the biggest challenge facing London masonry today: “I don’t think it’s that different to yesterday or last year or last decade, which is misperception about Masonry. David Staples and UGLE are doing a great job to moderate that view and to encourage people to think again. I think we in London are doing a great job – for example when we had 250 nonmasons coming to the Grand Temple to a talk about what masonry is about, so I think there is an increased interest in it. I think the charitable work really is a good focus for people who are not masons to contemplate becoming masons, as well as seeing the way in which masons behave and seeing what they are interested in, what their values are.” He went on to tell me (as Metropolitan Comms Officer) that “we have a big challenge still to get this message over – as you well know – after all it’s one of your main roles!”.
He added: “We’re going to have a challenge because we’ll undoubtedly lose some members who’ve got out of the habit of coming to Lodge or Chapter meetings or have found that it was really hard work getting there. But I think the real challenge is to keep the enthusiasm, the understanding of the force for good that we really are, both in terms of charity and how people develop themselves.”
Sir Michael had some useful advice for Master Masons too: “Do your best, keep engaged. If you want to help in any way, let people know. We love willing volunteers for all sorts of things! But there are a limited number of ‘positions’, so be ready to accept challenges and responsibility when they come your way.
I have had a very unusual progress through masonry, and when I had just come out of the Chair of my Mother Lodge, I had no concept or idea that I would become Metropolitan Grand Master. It hadn’t even crossed my mind! One has to be willing, when asked, to contribute, and I have tried to that with the roles I’ve been asked to do.”
Finally I asked him if he’d join next year’s annual Metropolitan Grand Lodge tandem skydiving event and jump? Laughing, he replied “I’m terrible with heights – absolutely not! But I am happy to ask one of my Deputies or Assistants…”.
The future of Freemasonry in general.
Sir Michael is optimistic about the future of the Craft: “it’ll continue to evolve along the lines I’ve already said. I would hope that the rest of masonry will have managed to do what we have done in Metropolitan, we have now stopped the net losses, and we may not be recruiting large net numbers, but we are recruiting well. There’s a lot to be done about getting those at university to join university scheme Lodges, but we’ve got to make sure we can cascade them out to other Lodges, otherwise they won’t be able to progress through the Offices and through the Chair. I believe it’ll be more of the same, but I hope it’ll be more vibrant, I hope UGLE as a whole will not be reducing and it will be gradually increasing.” His view on attracting new members is that we must be down to earth, open, in touch with modern society, and has a very particular perspective into how we should engage younger members without alienating older brethren: “there are a relatively small number of people who will not change and fight it. I attended anamalgamation of two lodges, who realised that younger people, who dress slightly differently, and behave slightly differently, are passionate about their masonry, and they have a vibrant atmosphere in the lodge. You can see the older brethren really liking it. They like the enthusiasm, they bathe in the reflected glory of the younger members. It’s just a matter of every one of us opening ourselves up to new possibilities.”
The man behind the Mason.
Sir Michael’s sport was fencing. He now occasionally follows cricket, particularly with his son in law, who was brought up in Australia. Any sport to do with Australia vs. England results in the usual banter in the family. Holidays are more adventurous (under normal circumstances): “We like France, and we had a narrowboat for many years, although that phase of our lives is coming to an end now. We’ve also always liked seeing animals in the wild, wherever they might be, like Africa. Generally we had already planned to do a bit more in the UK, and like European countries. Long haul distance will probably be a minority sport now.”
His favourite tipple? “Wine. Red wine. Good red wine. One of my daughters gave me a plaque saying ‘you can only drink so many bottles of wine in your life, so they may as well be good’.” He has two Springer Spaniels, an 11-year-old and a puppy of 13 weeks, so training activities are ongoing: “we live on the western end of the South Downs. We can go on the Downs with the dogs, it’s just wonderful.”
His perfect Sunday? “Go to church on Sunday morning (not at the moment obviously), and then a Sunday roast, absolutely, with a good bottle of red wine, and my wife and I tend to do a larg crossword if we’re on our own, over our coffee and little more red wine.”
His favourite London landmark gives us a real insight into the man: “Probably St Paul’s. Tower Bridge is wonderful. But actually one of the things I really like is the juxtaposition of the old, which absolutely must be preserved, where it’s good, but with the position of the new buildings, not all of which I like. But I do like that modernity that’s superimposed alongside the preserved historic buildings. Preserve the historic situation and tradition, but at the same time moderniseand combine with new ideas.”
Our fast-paced Zoom call ended after 45 minutes. I came away feeling Sir Michael is a very caring, considerate man, a pragmatist, but above all has a vision to build Metropolitan Grand Lodge by preserving the historic and combine with the modern.
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 42 October 2020 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 42.