A career diplomat, Sir John Sawers has more than three decades of experience in international affairs, geopolitics and security; having spent 36 years in public service with the British Government culminating in his five-year tenure as head of MI6, the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service.
Prior to leading MI6, a position he held from November 2009 until November 2014, where he's been described as a “smooth operator” and likened to Pierce Brosnan's portrayal of James Bond, John Sawers was the UK's Ambassador to the United Nations (2007-2009), Political Director of the Foreign Office (2003-2007), Special Representative in Iraq (2003), Ambassador to Cairo (2001-2003) and Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister (1999-2001).
The latter of which involved dealing with all aspects of foreign and defence policy, working closely with international counterparts. The period included the Kosovo War and work on the Northern Ireland peace process and implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. He was also posted to Washington, South Africa, Damascus and Sanaa.
With his close ties to Downing Street and the foreign policy establishment, Sir John Sawers was the first outsider to be appointed to the Secret Intelligence Service in decades, and was the first head to give a public speech, lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding the notorious agency. He began his career with MI6 in 1977, serving in Yemen and Syria. He then left MI6 and joined the Foreign Office, rising rapidly through the ranks. He served in South Africa, the EU, and Washington DC until 1998.
Geopolitically, that period was dominated by war in Bosnia, crises in the Middle East, and the debate in Britain on the European Union. John then served as the foreign affairs adviser to Tony Blair, covering a period that included the Kosovo war. He also contributed to negotiations on Northern Ireland and the implementation of the Good Friday agreement.
Sir John has extensive experience in international affairs, representing the British Government around the world and leading negotiations at the United Nations, in the European Union and the G8.
At MI6 - an organisation with global reach and impact - as Chief Executive and Chairman of the board, Sir John Sawers took the organisation through a period of modernisation and reform. He was also a member of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Main Board from 2003-07.
A keen academic, Sir John Sawers attended the universities of Witwatersrand in South Africa and Harvard in the US. He was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to national security.
After retiring from MI6, he became partner and chairman of a geopolitical advisory firm that provides strategic advice and insights to investors and governments around the world.