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Meet Ken Olisa: The most powerful black man in Britain

Ken Olisa

Ken Olisa, he’s the Queen’s escort in London, the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant of London, he has officially been named the most powerful black person in Britain. He locked horns with John Bercow and has a library named after him at Cambridge – not bad for a boy who grew up without a loo in Nottingham.

In a top 10 including high profile figures such as Sir Lenny Henry, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Lewis Hamilton and Mo Farah, Olisa was chosen as number one on 2016’s Powerlist.

Olisa, whose motto is “Do well; do good”, was the first black Briton to serve as a director of a FTSE 100 company (Thomson Reuters).

He is also the first black Briton to be appointed as Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London.

This position means that Olisa is the Queen’s personal representative in the capital. He is responsible for upholding the dignity of the Crown, supporting the Royal Family in Greater London and improving Londoner’s sense of belonging and, therefore, advancing social inclusion.

Ken OlisaKen Olisa has been chosen as the most influential black Briton on the Powerlist 2016

Unassuming and usually dressed in the commuter’s favoured uniform of suit and raincoat, the only thing that hints at his influence is his trademark bow tie – he owns more than 100.

Otherwise, there is little to suggest that Mr Olisa is, according to the annual Powerlist – which names the most influential black people in Britain, more important than Sir Lenny Henry or Mo Farah or the Oscar-winning film director Steve McQueen. How could anyone know that this quiet man from Nottingham wields more power than Lewis Hamilton or Baroness Lawrence?

But wield power Ken Olisa does. The 63-year old was the first British born black man to serve on the board of a public company (Reuters), has his own merchant bank (Restoration Partners), and a library named after him at his Cambridge alma mater (Fitzwilliam).

He is a keen philanthropist (the library came after a £2 million donation), a former governor of the Peabody Trust, a chair of not one but two charities (Thames Reach, which deals with the homeless, and Shaw Trust, which helps the disabled), and is on the board of the Institute of Directors.

Olisa is also chairman of the homeless charities Thames Reach and Shaw Trust.

He was selected for the top spot for his inspirational work and tireless support of charity.


Powerlist 2016 Top 10

  1. Ken Olisa, OBE, founder, Restoration Partners and Lord-Lieutenant Greater London
  2. Sir Lenny Henry , comedian
  3. Sharon White, Chief Executive of OFCOM
  4. Steve McQueen, film director
  5. Lewis Hamilton, racing driver
  6. Baroness Doreen Lawrence, justice campaigner
  7. Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, space scientist
  8. Mo Farah, athlete
  9. Dr Sandie Okoro, global general counsel of HSBC Asset Management
  10. Adrian Joseph, MD, customer solutions and innovation at Google for Northern and Central Europe

Unveiling the Powerlist 2016, its publisher Michael Eboda said: “I am delighted to salute the truly inspirational men and women in this year’s magazine.

“Ken is wonderful role model who highlights the exceptional talent in black communities.”

The Powerlist celebrates the achievement, excellence and success of people of African and African Caribbean heritage in Britain across a wide range of industries.


Ken Olisa with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Premiere of Spectre.

And as if all of that weren’t enough, in April, he was made Lord Lieutenant of London, appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. The title gives him an office in Whitehall, a staff of 90, and puts him in charge of all visits made by the royal family within the city – with him even standing in for them on occasion.

So he escorted the Queen to the Home Office last week, and had the miserable task of accompanying the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the Spectre premiere last month, along with Prince Harry. The next morning he was up early to spend yet more time with the Duchess – this time, on a charity visit to Islington Town Hall.

“I do a lot of calming down in the moments before their arrival,” he explains. “People tend to get very wound up and stressed.” Not so Olisa, who is as cool as the proverbial cucumber, even when wearing the heavy military-style uniform of the Lord Lieutenant.

“He hates the idea of quotas, thinks that they humiliate the people that they are intended to help”

All of this is a very long way indeed from his humble beginnings in Nottingham, where he was brought up in straitened circumstances by his single mother (he never knew his father, who left them to return to Nigeria when he was young).

“This Powerlist, it shows that black people can do everything. There can no longer be an argument that if you can’t get on because you are black. There are lots of other reasons you can’t get on – you’re incompetent, you can’t speak properly, you can’t spell, you don’t get to work on time. But it’s not because you are black.”

Does he think we will ever have a black prime minister? Or a black member of the royal family?

“There is no reason why there shouldn’t be. There’s a Lord Lieutenant who isn’t white now.” But he thinks we have always been a multicultural society – from the 25,000 Caribbean soldiers who volunteered to fight for us during the Second World War to the Polish pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain – and he says we would do well to remember that – especially in light of the Paris attacks and the recent furore over refugees.

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