Tony Blair has revealed his institute is on track to generate $140 million in annual revenue and advise more than 40 governments, underscoring the former UK prime minister's enduring political influence.
In an interview in his West End office, Blair told the Financial Times that he would not sell the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, in part because he believes the strong growth of the non-profit business will continue.
“I don't want to do it – but we have approaches,” he said. “For starters, it could be a lot bigger than we are now. I don't know how big. I think we'll probably break 1,000 people next year.
“We are now in more than 30 countries. We added nine more countries last year and may add another nine this year. We now have a waiting list of governments that want to join the program.”
According to his office, the institute is expected to earn about $140 million this year, more than triple the $45 million it posted in 2020 and up about 16 percent from 2022. The staff is on track to quadruple from 263 people in 2020. .
The group derives most of its income from government work, deploying advisers that include Sanna Marin, a former prime minister of Finland, and a recent high-profile newcomer.
Blair, the executive chairman, is often the first port of call for executives seeking advice. He then sends teams to work in that country, sometimes staying there when there is a change of government.
He says the institute operates in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia and is building its business in America. Blair also points to projects in the United Arab Emirates and Eastern Europe, while the 16 African countries in which the institute operates include Kenya, Senegal, Ghana, Rwanda and Malawi.
His work in Saudi Arabia drew the most intense criticism. The Blair Institute provided – and continues to provide – advice to Mohammed bin Salman despite the crown prince's alleged role in the brutal 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“A few years ago, people attacked us for working in Saudi Arabia, but I have absolutely no doubt that the changes they are making there are of huge social and economic importance in terms of the country and the region and in terms of wider security,” he said.
Asked if he was turning down a deal, he said: “Yes, absolutely. We said no and withdrew from the seats. I won't say where, but we left places when we decided they weren't going in the right direction.
“The employees who come here and work for us, even though we pay well, they will come and work for the institute because they have a sense of mission. They don't want to work in a country where they feel they can't have an impact.”
Blair says he spends 85 percent of his time at the institute, which he owns but from which he does not draw a salary. He earns his money through private consulting work, speaking engagements and his position as chairman of JPMorgan's international board.
Blair, 70, said he would like his institute to survive him and intends to fend off interest from potential buyers. “Yes, sure. that's the ambition. Definitely.”
“Nobody does it like we do here,” he said. “We're not McKinsey or BCG, although we have a lot of respect for what they do.” We engage in a little political strategy and implementation.
Blair's regular advice is simple. “One of the first things I say to any prime minister or president is 'do you have a plan?' The country needs direction.”
The second common element is that technology deployment is vital. “This is possible. and the challenge for today's government: how to harness the technological revolution?
In addition to his formal advisory work, Blair maintains contact with political leaders at home and abroad. This week he met with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to discuss the Gaza crisis.
In the UK, current Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer has also turned to Blair for advice and defended his record as the party's most successful electoral leader, although he is still condemned by some on the Labor left.
Blair expects some of his well-paid staff to go into government if Labor wins the UK election, but Starmer has already signed up to his predecessor's diagnosis that business needs stability.
“The advantage that Britain had when you had Margaret Thatcher, John Major and then me was that you had almost 30 years of government with a certain core of policy around the business sector that was not very different,” Blair said.
“My government has done a lot of things in the public sphere and made social changes and all that, but we haven't undermined the core business emphasis that Thatcher put in place.”
He says Starmer was right when he recently said Thatcher had a sense of mission. “He was saying something that's pretty obvious — she knew where she was going,” Blair said.
He thinks he is less of a hate figure on the Labor left than he used to be – many never forgave him for the 2003 Iraq war – but also notes that he has won three consecutive elections.
Blair says he is “delighted” to have former Tory prime minister David Cameron recently appointed as foreign secretary. “I think it's a good move for the country – he'll do a good job and people will take him seriously,” he said.
Would he accept a similar offer if Starmer wins the next election? “First of all, I don't think he would be very interested in it,” he said. “Secondly, I'm glad to be building the institute and doing the work I'm doing.”