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Richard Burge

UAE - Economy

Richard Burge

Chief Executive, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry


Richard has been the chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry since February 2020. He has led five multi-million pound organisations as chief executive over a total of 18 years. They include an internationally famous charity, a UK government foreign affairs agency, a private company, and three of them were large membership bodies. He has been on the Board and a non-executive chair/director of five corporations including companies, charities, two government agencies, and a research-intensive university. Richard has worked in over 55 countries, specialising in Africa, the wider Commonwealth, and post-conflict situations and locations. He was Chief Executive, Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council from 2017 to 2019.  For the previous eight years, he was Chief Executive of Wilton Park (a Foreign and Commonwealth Office agency for conciliation and dialogue on conflict and crises).  He was a Commissioner for Commonwealth Scholarships, and on the Council of Durham University. He is currently a Governor of the National Institute of Social and Economic Research.
He has been CEO of the Countryside Alliance, Director General of the Zoological Society of London, and for ten years served with the British Council in Africa and the Middle East. He graduated from Durham University (Hatfield College) in1980 and was a Commonwealth Research Scholar at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka (1983-1986). He was born in Hong Kong.

TBY talks to Richard Burge, Chief Executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, about the role of the chamber, NGOs, and London’s status as a global capital.

What is the role of the London Chamber of Commerce, and how has it transformed since you arrived?

I came from outside of the chamber community, and my job is to come in and do something different. It has been an interesting process to do something different when the world changed rapidly. We have made some serious changes in the past 18 months. Internally, the management and performance systems have modernized. The crucial change for us is to turn the London Chamber into the Chamber for London as an international and global city. A global city is one that plays a role in other countries, almost as if it were a domestic city. Our job is to reflect, respond, promote, encourage, and engage with the world, with London as that global city. There are a number of things that we have had to change. Just within London, we cannot deliver the granular level services that ordinary companies in London need from a chamber of commerce. We have made an effort to develop a network of chambers across London, some of which already existed. That enables us to focus on the international global city aspect. We will become much more than a trade advisory service. We are developing member venues across the city. There will be a large trade center in the west end of London. We are also opening our own accelerator unit and a sandbox focused on businesses such as SMEs being able to trade internationally. We will be focusing on areas of disadvantage. We want to move from diversity to inclusion. Transactions and the nature of geopolitics and failure to negotiate global trade deals are being substituted by bilateral deals, meaning there is great inconsistency in trade. We are passionate about globalization and believe that you share wealth and prosperity through business and secure peace through trade. Thus, we will work with cities that are like us. There are many global cities struggling at the moment because the two key things that they need are being damaged: the central government that sees them a tool in their geopolitical arsenal and a judiciary that has become politicized. For me, global cities flourish when the underlying legal principle judges our independence and neutrality when enforcing contracts. For a country that has seven absolute monarchies, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are still in that space. We will forge tight relationships with the city chambers of about 30 global world cities around the world to have an underlying shared cause. We want to share prosperity and secure peace with them. 

How do you see the role of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry in this recovery phase for the city?

COVID-19 and other underlying issues caused huge pressure in terms of productivity and global debt, however it has pushed businesses to change things for the better. Productivity and effectiveness matter, and this is where personalized work solutions (PWS) come in. Everyone will start to implement PWS, which will lead to people living healthier, productive, and more enjoyable work lives. We are learning more about how businesses and cities have to be more resolute.

When we talk about sustainable growth of cities, what are the most important things to take into consideration?

Measure, measure, and measure: You cannot take action unless you are measuring things accurately. It is not just data but also the metrics too. For the moment, we do not have a consistent way of measuring and recording the greenhouse gas emission of businesses and entire cities. Many companies have portions of their business externalized. They have no idea what affect that has on sustainability. We need to make these matrices transparent. A company’s weakness is not about what they are doing but what their supply chain is doing. They could be doing everything right but find out their suppliers are doing something wrong. They are relying on someone being completely unsustainable. Unless we get the ways of measuring, validating, and verifying the validations right, climate change impacts such as water and waste will still be a major issue even with the best intentions.

What is the role of big cities in this whole energy transition?

They are the biggest consumers of energy. The buyer is in control, and cities should be setting standards. There are things cities can do to drive the market. For example, they should be making demands on their national governments and not merely respond to what their national governments want them to do.

What is the relationship with the NGOs and the policymakers?

Cities will find it easier to have relationships with NGOs, campaigning organizations, and countries. Cities do not put oxygen into the air, create water, or grow food. All these things require countries. Thus, they can make demands on what they want and what sustainability is about. Part of that is demands on government. The other major role of cities is to be much more collaborative. Cities must start seeing, without diluting their relationship with their network, that they have much in coming with other cities. It should be absolutely transparent. This is what we all need our individual governments to provide. London has a great potential. It currently has a great relationship with Dubai that will grow because both have a shared vision of the role of cities.

What are the major takeaways?

We are coming into a world, despite its fractured nature of geopolitics, where there is a much greater sense of people wanting to work together. The crisis of climate change and the discussions around it have made us understand that we should have done more before. It is both inspiring and encouraging.



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