Benson Cheung Security, Trade and the Economy Society, Culture, and Security

Interview with Ian Richardson: Bilderberg Elites in an Age of Populism

Every year, the world’s leading politicians, titans of industry, and other public notables convene in the Bilderberg Conference to discuss today’s most pressing issues behind closed doors. This year’s conference had recently concluded on June 4th in Chantilly, Virginia. As always, no minutes, no notes. Because Bilderberg participants debate in private, many conspiracy theories swirl around these transnational neoliberal elites, and in these days of rising nationalist populism, globalism and transnational elites are becoming dirty words in some circles. Lost in these narratives of rage is any understanding of who these global elites are, how power dynamics in elite circles work, and how elites impact the shaping of policy and business.


Benson Cheung interviews Professor Ian Richardson to shed light on this opaque conference’s attendees, its important role in transnational governance, the dynamics of personal power in closed settings, and the relevance of elites in an age of populism (and yes, conspiracy theories will be discussed).


Ian Richardson is Director of Executive Education at Stockholm Business School, Stockholm University (where he lectures in strategy, leadership, political marketing, public affairs and public diplomacy). Prior to his doctoral research at Cranfield, which explored power and consensus in transnational elite networks, Ian was a business leader in the magazine publishing and internet sectors. He is the lead author of Bilderberg People: Elite Power and Consensus in World Affairs (Routledge, 2011), and a political contributor to the Huffington Post. Ian also provides advice and consulting on issues related to political strategy, public diplomacy and international business political relations.


Quick facts about the 2017 Conference

  • Took place between June 1 to 4 in Chantilly, Virginia
  • 131 delegates from 22 countries attended
    • 108 were male (82.4%), 23 were female (17.6%)
  • Participants came from the following countries:
    • Austria (3), Belgium (3), Canada (5), China (1), Denmark (4), Finland (2), France (6), Germany (9), Greece (2), International organizations (6), Ireland (2), Italy (6), Netherlands (6), Norway (3), Poland (1), Portugal (3), Spain (4), Sweden (3), Switzerland (3), Turkey (5), United Kingdom (7), United States (47)
  • Participants include royalty, business leaders from multiple sectors, political figures, and ex-military officials
  • The Steering Committee consists of 31 people, and is headed by French businessman Henri de Castries, the former CEO of insurance multinational AXA.


Show Notes

Bilderberg Group official website

Bilderberg People: Elite Power and Consensus in World Affairs, by Ian Richardson, Andrew Kakabadse, Nada Kakabadse (Routledge, 2011)

American Hegemony and the Trilateral Commission, by Stephen Gill (Cambridge University Press, 1992)

The Trilateral Commission and Global Governance: Informal Elite Diplomacy, 1972-82, by Dino Knudsen (Routledge, 2016)


Photo: Bilderberg Arrival (2012), by Tyler Merbler via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Photo: Photo courtesy of Ian Richardson.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada. 

Benson Cheung
Benson recently completed his Honours BA in history and political science at the University of Toronto. His research interests stretch from historical dictatorships to contemporary political media and culture. During university, Benson was a highly enthusiastic member of the Model UN community, helped establish refugee fundraising non-profit ‘Borderless’, and has contributed to numerous undergraduate journals and publications. He hopes to continue to pursue academia in the future.