One reason I enjoyed living in Washington, D.C. and going to Texas Christian University was the fact that you could meet people from all over the world. I remember at TCU once meeting a guy here on a tennis scholarship from Taiwan. I nearly beat him! Apparently tennis wasn’t a very competitive sport in Taiwan at the time or maybe he wanted to curry favor with me because of my jazz record collection which he loved. He had a cassette of Lobo’s “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” that he listened to over and over. In D.C., my friend Mark grew up in a diplomatic family. Though he was British, he’d never lived there, growing up in South Africa and Australia. His accent? I can’t describe it, but women loved it. And compared to my Texas drawl, well I didn’t have a chance. We must have been quite a pair. So when I got the chance to meet Sir Gavyn Arthur, former Lord Mayor of London, here to learn about education initiatives in Texas and Arizona, I jumped at the chance. His trip and schedule was arranged by Botanical Research Institute of Texas with funding by The Rainwater Charitable Foundation. What is a Lord Mayor you might ask? The Lord Mayor of London is the head of the City of London Corp., distinguished from the Mayor of London, who is the mayor of Greater London. The Lord Mayor’s main role is to represent and promote the businesses and people of the City of London, Arthur said, speaking to the Breakfast Club of Fort Worth on May 7. Elected annually, they serve only one year. As Arthur related, sounding a bit like an upstairs character from “Downton Abbey”, not a bad gig. “The first day the footman asked me what temperature and what time I wanted my bath,” he said. “It’s a very busy schedule, but every day when I did fly in to take my bath it would be at the proper temperature and the toothpaste would be on the brush as well.” It may sound a bit Monty Pythonesque, but it’s serious business, noted Arthur, a Barrister and a High Court Judge. The Lord Mayor gives seven to 10 major speeches a day, so there’s little time to waste. And, as London is the center of the world’s financial universe, it’s an important position. “Let me explain to you that the Lord Mayor is the City of London’s secret weapon,” he said. When the Lord Mayor goes abroad, as he or she does one day out of three, the Lord Mayor is regarded as a head of state. “That gives the City of London an enormous advantage,” he said. For instance, when he was in office Lloyds of London was having difficulty with their insurance products in Japan. The firm would send their new products through the government’s regulatory process, but by the time they were approved, a Japanese firm would, coincidentally, have similar product to promote. “When I went there, the first person I met with, as a head of state, was the Emperor. He asked me if there were any issues and I related what was going on. That was enormously helpful,” he said. Another reason I enjoyed being exposed to international points of view at TCU and D.C. is that you often gain a perspective on events that you rarely hear from TV’s squawking heads or, dare I say it, the editorial pages of most newspapers. That too was true of Arthur. He has a special interest in the Middle East, serving for instance on the International Committee of the Red Cross/ Red Crescent and the Three Faiths’ Forum. At the Breakfast Club he was asked about the current situation in Syria. He offered a decidedly different and mature take. “In my view there is a rather simplistic view in this country that the president should intervene,” he said. A solution is going to be very difficult, he said. President Assad is supported by half of the people, while other half of the country is “at his throat,” Arthur said. In my view, it would be an absolute disaster [to arm the rebels.] You would be effectively giving weapons to people to wipe out the Christian population of Syria – 4 million people. Equally, you have a regime that is committing atrocities as well. Frankly, my view is that if it is not impinging on world peace, then stay out of it. Neither side is good.” Uncomfortable to hear, but an honest point of view to be sure. As for Fort Worth, the former Lord Mayor of London is a big fan, having been here several times as well as hosting BRIT President Sy Sohmer from time to time. “There’s something noticeable here, a community spirit and a sense of duty toward the city which is not so obvious elsewhere in the United States. It’s quite highly developed here. Everyone I meet, a major part of their lives is doing something for the people. Quite extraordinary,” he said. There’s another reason I like visiting with those international types. They’ve got great manners.
In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at email@example.com.