Tributes to former chamber chief executive

A business leader who was part of the team which brought the National Exhibition Centre to Birmingham has died at the age of 89.

John Warburton
John Warburton

John Warburton, a former chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry (now Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce) also created what is now the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce.

In a career distinguished by tirelessly promoting British business abroad, Mr Warburton was awarded a CBE for services to exports in the New Year’s Honours in 1983.

He was also responsible for embracing Birmingham’s Asian community into the chamber in the wake of the Handsworth riots in 1987, when the Institute of Asian Businesses – as it was originally called – was created.

Mr Warburton died on March 3 at Cowes, Isle of Wight, where he moved in 2020 to be nearer his family.

A funeral service will be held at The Oratory, Birmingham, on Tuesday, April 5 at 12.30pm, followed by a reception in his memory at Edgbaston Golf Club.

He joined Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 1959 after working for London Chamber of Commerce following National Service in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

Mr Warburton was appointed the Chamber’s chief executive in 1979 and served until 1994. He was also regional secretary of the West Midlands Chambers of Commerce from 1979 to 1994.

His daughter, Moira James, said: “My father was always exceedingly proud to have served the chamber for so many years and to have contributed widely to the fortunes of businesses based in the Birmingham area.”

His deputy, Sue Battle, who went on to become chief executive, said: “John leaves a lasting and tangible legacy for Birmingham. He positioned the chamber as one of the leading promoters for successfully bringing the National Exhibition Centre to Birmingham and was tireless in connecting its businesses globally, especially across Europe.”

Henrietta Brealey, current chief executive of the GBCC, said: “John’s contribution to the chamber was critical at a time when the promotion of Birmingham abroad was essential and he turned the chamber into a leading force in that field as well as helping to bring the NEC to the city.”

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