Jonathan Webber, director of international trade at Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC), has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 58.
Jonathan, who joined the Chamber in April, 1999, was awarded the MBE for services to international trade and development in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2011 and was made a deputy lieutenant in the West Midlands in 2014.
He was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in 2014, an illness he bravely described as “something of a nuisance and an inconvenience”. He died peacefully at home and was with his long-time partner Kathryn Ball.
Paul Faulkner, chief executive of the GBCC, said: “Jonathan has fought a brave battle against his illness for over two years.
“He will be remembered for his dedication to international trade after criss-crossing the globe to promote UK business.
“He had a life-long relationship with Asia and Africa and was a supporter of the Liberal Democrats, having stood as a candidate in local elections.
“His expertise and character will be sorely missed by the Chamber and he showed amazing courage as he fought his illness, maintaining a positive, even cheerful, attitude as he went through years of painful treatment.”
Greg Lowson, Birmingham Chamber’s president, said: “Jonathan was a strong character in everything he did and this manifested itself in his battle against his illness, during which he maintained a stoical and amazingly realistic demeanour.”
Former Birmingham Chamber chief executive Jerry Blackett described Jonathan as a ‘real one-off and a maverick.’
“He was extremely well-read and educated and his interests were eclectic, from cricket to philosophy. He was a maverick – I realised that he was never going to respond to traditional management. He was not one for bureaucracy or for rules.
“He never missed his targets – we were the top performing UKTI team across the country year after year. It was his intelligence and ability that enabled that – he got the best out of his team.”
Rupi Nandra, on behalf of GBCC International Trade team, said: “Jonathan was a big-hearted and larger than life character who motivated and inspired everyone who met him, not least his team around him and his friends and colleagues around the world. We will miss him deeply but his legacy will live on.”
Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: “It’s hard to remember a time when Jonathan wasn’t a big figure of the Liberal Democrat family. I was always grateful for the support and advice that Jonathan gave me as leader and remember fondly the enthusiasm, energy and optimism with which he always spoke up for the party.
“He was so committed to recruiting new members – and optimistically saw every new acquaintance as a likely new recruit, even when the evidence clearly suggested they were not remotely interested in politics.
“Jonathan was a loyal supporter and promoter of the West Midlands – both professionally and within the party – and I was delighted that he was able to be part of the trade delegation on my visit to India in the summer of 2014.
“It was great to see Jonathan in his professional capacity, helping companies from the West Midlands to find new opportunities to export overseas. Despite the hectic schedule of the visit and despite the fact that Jonathan was already seriously ill by that time, he was constantly upbeat and determined to enjoy himself. He was wonderful company.
“Jonathan dedicated so much of his life to the party and to the values he held dear and we will all feel his loss. He was a true gentleman and my thoughts are with Kathryn, his family and friends – of whom I know he had so many.”
Born in Watford, Jonathan spent most of his working life involved in exports and specialised in regional small to medium enterprise (SME) export strategy, European programmes, international trading links between the West Midlands and South Asia, East Africa and North America.
He was also director of Enterprise Europe Network (West Midlands) and Europe Direct, Birmingham.
Jonathan was previously an advisor to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on trade with Greece and the Balkans, and before that spent 17 years working in Athens and Salonika as a literary agent/publisher.
He became chief executive of the British Greek Chamber of Commerce in Athens.
Latterly, Jonathan helped deliver European Commission-funded private sector capacity-building programmes in some of the most challenged communities in developing economies.
He had worked in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, South Sudan, Georgia and Ukraine.
Outside work he was heavily involved in politics – unashamedly and avowedly Liberal Democrat.
He was second on the Liberal Democrat MEP list for the West Midlands in the 2014 Euro elections and had a three-year term as regional chair of the party (2011-13). He continued working with the regional Liberal Democrats, and was responsible for strategy. His local party was Wolverhampton.
As well-being as a dedicated cricket follower, he enjoyed enjoy art, Scandinavian glass, ceramics, books and going to the gym.
In one of his last posts on Linkedin, Jonathan wrote: “In late July 2014 I was diagnosed with inoperable, aggressive liver cancer. This is something of a nuisance and an inconvenience but serves to concentrate the mind! My heartfelt thanks for the amazing amount of support and kind words; it builds my resolve and my resilience.”
When he was awarded the MBE Jonathan said: “I’m just delighted, pleased and surprised. The trade team here is recognised as being one of the best in the country and we are known right across the world.”
Jonathan received the President’s Award from Saqib Bhatti at last year’s Asian Business Chamber of Commerce dinner.