Promoting “commerce and honest friendship with all”

19 September 2023

The City of London is famous for its “Livery Companies”: business-themed associations located within the “Square Mile”, and recognised by the Monarch. These associations date back to the Middle Ages, with new ones still being founded as new “takes” on the traditional formula.

The Worshipful Company of World Traders is one of these newer Livery Companies, dedicated, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, to promoting “commerce and honest friendship with all”.

Spencer West Partner Michael Shapiro was elected as this past year’s Master World Trader. Here, Michael talks about his leadership of this innovative City of London Livery Company.

Michael, as a partner in a global Law Firm, being Master of a Livery Company promoting World Trade is perhaps the most appropriate civic and charitable role anyone could imagine. How did you get involved?

I wanted to be involved in something in the City. I like the way the City of London is traditional and at the same time modern: rituals and ceremonies dating back hundreds of years happen alongside some of the greatest – and most sustainable – modern architecture in the world, plus a cutting-edge digital economy.

How did you find the right niche?

Someone initially suggested I got involved in the Worshipful Company of Solicitors, which was an instant turn-off! I wanted something qualitatively different, something to complement my professional identity, rather than just be an extension of it.

A friend of mine was telling me about the Worshipful Company of World Traders. He said you would love this, and immediately invited me to come to an event at the Company.

In the event, he couldn’t come, and I was on my own. I soon discovered that he had arranged for me to be welcomed personally by the Master of the Company, and wonderfully looked after. I was so impressed by the welcome and hospitality I received that I decided this was for me. After several information social occasions and a black-tie dinner, I did join, and when my wife Jill and I ended up at a dinner we both started to make friends, which has continued.

Would you recommend the Company to others?

For business people interested in good causes, and with spare time, located within reach of the City of London, I can’t recommend Livery Companies (known as “The Livery”) enough. They are simply invaluable. And the Worshipful Company of World Traders is one of the most stimulating, welcoming and inclusive of all the Livery Companies. Being a World Trader is not a profession, unlike some of the other companies, so we can attract a really diverse group of people with a huge range of skills and interests. Finally, meeting new people and making new friends has been a definite plus.

How did it happen that you found yourself rising to the level of Master?

After a couple of years, I was asked to chair the membership committee, which I did for five years, and was soon asked to be Senior Warden (the person who will be Master next time). I went to forty-two committee meetings last year, and after that I did feel I knew the Company quite well!

You are Master World Trader from October 2022 – October 2023. Tell us some more about the Company’s charitable and community work.

We’re only 23 years old so we’re not the size of some of the ancient Companies, either in terms of membership numbers or of historic endowments, so we aim to target our slightly more limited resources extremely carefully, for maximum impact. We distribute around £40,000 a year. We prioritise education and small altruistic projects of various kinds, plus we give money in the form of prizes and grants.

We do a lot of carefully targeted school visits to encourage children from Inner City schools to aspire to the various professions. We have journalists, diplomats, teachers, lawyers – every profession taking part in this. We run a conference for Year 10 and 12 students at some of these schools called “The World of Work”, and as Master I want to make that future-proof. We convene day conferences at Birkbeck, a College of the University of London that has traditionally extended learning to people unable to attend full-time courses.

We have worked in partnership with other charities, for example when we collaborated with the Sheriffs’ and Recorders’ Fund Challenge, which runs an annual debating competition for schools. We supported training in debating skills for the children who were taking part. Our special Journeyman Scheme enables young people aged between 18 and 27 to join the Company, and one of our former Journeymen will soon become the youngest member of the Court of the Company, which is the body of 24 members, chaired by the Master, that runs the Company.

A school in Kenya needed £9,000 for a school library, a librarian, and a Portakabin in which to house it, which we funded. We regularly give to a community theatre company, and we have helped Ukrainians fleeing conflict, including music scholars who have played at one of our dinners. We gave money towards endowing a music scholarship for them.

We have a close relationship with members of the armed services, including HMS Dauntless, RAF Benson, HMS President and 2 Rifles Battalion. These relationships can lead to some unusual experiences, such as being flown in a Chinook Helicopter – exhilarating and slightly hair-raising at the same time!

What have the highlights been so far?

I think the most exciting thing of all was a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace for the Coronation, where my wife and I met the new King and Queen. It’s hard to compare an experience like that with anything else in one’s life.

There have been lots of other amazing opportunities, including attending special services at St Paul’s Cathedral, and promoting Interfaith relations. I was recently able to arrange, as a mark of mutual friendship and respect, for a Rabbi from my family synagogue, West London Synagogue, to preach at a City of London Anglican Church for our annual thanksgiving service. That was an extremely moving occasion for me.

The intellectual side of the Company’s life has allowed me to meet luminaries like Rory Stewart as the Company’s Tacitus Lecturer, an annual lecture which takes place annually at Guildhall in front of over 700 people. And in terms of broader influencing, the Company is part of the Livery Climate Action Group, a body of Livery Companies which aims to support City of London Livery Companies and Guilds in managing their impact on climate change, plus the Financial Services Group of Livery Companies.

I recently organised a trip to Tallinn in Estonia for a large group of Company members, which was both fascinating and rewarding, and a lot of fun, as well as a spur to future collaboration between Estonia and the City of London.

I do want to say that I could not have achieved all this without the support and friendship of our talented and hard-working Company Clerk Mrs Gaye Duffy, and my wife and consort who has been tremendously supportive.

Michael, thank you so much for speaking with me, and many congratulations on the incredible work the Company is doing under your leadership.

Ian McDowell
ESG Director
Ian McDowell is the Community Engagement Director at Spencer West.
Michael Shapiro
Partner - Commercial Property
Michael Shapiro is a Partner Solicitor at Spencer West. He specialises in specialises in non-contentious commercial property work, specifically in transactional and advisory work. He has also dealt with some residential conveyancing.