The Hon. Sir John W. Swan, K.B.E., J.P.

Sir John Swan

Apart from the official titles of KBE and JP that are used to properly address Sir John Swan, he is also known as a real estate developer, a political luminary, a philanthropist and the longest serving Premier of Bermuda.

His achievements, awards and experiences are immense and too lengthy to list without ending up with a very large book. He has managed to achieve in years, what would take many, several lifetimes to accomplish.

However, in spite of his political, commercial and personal achievements, he has not lost his common touch. You can still see him walking the streets every day interacting with people. He waves to all that pass him by and offers the ladies a gentlemanly kiss or a compliment. His friendliness and humility is a natural part of his personna.

As a child, visually impaired and impacted by dyslexia, a learning disorder, life did not come easy for him. His parents instilled in him at a very early age that he would need to be disciplined and make sacrifices if he were to achieve his goals. He learned to overcome obstacles by sheer determination and the belief that he could accomplish anything if he set his mind to it. He has carried these principles throughout his life and they have served him well.

His business career began in 1962 when he founded John W. Swan Agency, a real estate development and savings and loan company. The services offered included architecture, residential construction, land development, rentals and real estate management. Between 1968 and 1978 the company developed 40% of residential homes in Bermuda which included two estates in Warwick comprising 18 homes each, and the Panorama townhouses in Paget. He wanted to help the average Bermudian fulfill the dream of home ownership and provide them with the financial tools to achieve it. During this time, Sir John’s firm employed more than 20 young Bermudian contractors. Many would later become successful business people in their own right. In October 2012, the company will celebrate its 50th year in business.

Over the years he has helped modernize the city of Hamilton through a number of commercial and residential building projects including the first condominium apartment complex in the City of Hamilton. His most recent project, 141 Front Street, is Bermuda’s first 10-storey development, which is not only an aesthetic wonder but also a remarkable example of state-of-the-art environmentally friendly building design and energy efficiency.

Prior to Sir John’s involvement in politics, he was a founding member of the Bermuda Monetary Authority, Director of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, and a Director of the Bermuda Employers Council. In addition, he served on several company boards. His political career  spanned 25 years. It began when he was elected to Parliament in 1972 and at the same time became Chairman of Bermuda Hospitals Board. He held many posts during this period such as Minister of Marine and Air Services from 1975 to 1976. During his tenure, he was responsible for Bermuda becoming a no-go zone in which ships transiting the waters of Bermuda had to stay at least 100 miles from our shores. He also expanded the shipping and aircraft registry. From 1976 to 1982, he was Minister of Immigration and Labour, where he initiated policies and practices that enhanced Bermuda’s economic and social development. Sir John became Premier in 1982 and served in this post for 13½ years. He retired from Parliament in 1997.

Under Sir John’s stewardship, the Government completed in excess of 20 major projects. However, the most significant legacy of his political career was in 1985 when he led the negotiations and the completion of the Tax Treaty with the United States. The Bermuda delegation held several meetings with the most senior officials in the U.S. Government including the President, Vice-President, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of State, National Security Advisor and Members of Congress in order to successfully implement a tax treaty between Bermuda and the United States. The agreement resulted in the development of the insurance and reinsurance industries and established the island as a major offshore financial center, and thus created a foundation for the island’s stable economy, well-developed infrastructure and regulatory framework.  

Sir John has been recognized by several organizations for his tireless service to his country and community. In 1990 he was appointed by Her Majesty the Queen, a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE). He was also appointed a Justice of the Peace. In 1969 he was named “Outstanding Man of the Year” by the Bermuda Jaycees.  In 1985 he was admitted to the Freedom of the City of London, England and Honorary Member Hamilton Rotary Club Bermuda. In 1986 Sir John was awarded the Medal of Distinction in recognition of his humanitarian endeavours from the International Association of Lions Clubs. Sir John was the first recipient of a new international award, the International Medal of Excellence, from the Poor Richard Club of Philadelphia, the oldest press and advertising club in Philadelphia. He was admitted as a Senator to the Membership and Fellowship of the Senate of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and inducted into The Company of Honourary Fellows of Bermuda College. In 2002 Sir John was awarded the St. Paul’s A.M.E. Outstanding Service Award. In 2010, Sir John was inducted into the Bermuda Business Hall of Fame; he was one of the first four recipients of this new award.

Sir John has also participated in several forums such as the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; the Aspen Foundation for Humanistic studies, British Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, World Economic Forums in Davos, Switzerland, Ditchley Foundation Forum in England and in June 2002 was awarded a scholarship to participate in the Aspen Institute Executive Seminar in Aspen, Colorado, USA.

Sir John currently serves as Chairman of the Swan Group of Companies. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from West Virginia Wesleyan College. In addition, he has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from West Virginia Wesleyan College, an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Atlantic Union College, an Honorary Doctorate of Law from University of Tampa, Florida and an Honorary Doctorate, Humane Letters from Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Sir John has continued to play an active role in Bermuda helping to maintain and revolutionize international trade, politics and property development. Sir John has also been one of the strongest proponents for the development of the Hamilton Waterfront. He also remains actively involved in local charitable organisations and has supported a variety of theatrical productions for the last 30 years.