Influence is not really about leadership positions or titles you may have earned, but rather about using your platform to positively impact those around you, says Joshua Siaw MBE, who was recently named the UK’s sixth most influential black person, by Powerlist 2024.
“Breaking into the legal profession was challenging, coming from my background, and I’m very passionate about being an example for those who come from similar backgrounds,” said Siaw, who grew up in a single-parent household in south London, and is now a partner in White & Case’s Global Debt Finance Practice and director of the firm’s Africa practice.
Josh, the youngest person on the Powerlist 2024 Top 10 and the highest-ranked lawyer, speaks at many schools and creates internship opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds at White & Case and other firms. He also established the Siaw Foundation, which provides scholarships and mentoring to students in the UK and Africa.
“Influence is using your platform to help those around you, particularly those you can empathise with, and for me it’s people from diverse communities who sometimes come from economically challenging backgrounds. I like being able to show them, ‘Look, this is what I did to break into the legal profession, and you can do the same.’ I find a lot of these students and candidates relate to me because they see themselves in me, and I see myself in them.”
The annual Powerlist honours the 100 most influential black people in the UK, showcasing black role models across various sectors including business, science, technology and the arts. Siaw keenly appreciates the impact of role models and of young people being able to see pathways to success. Growing up on a council estate, juggling supermarket and car wash jobs during his school years to support his family while striving to get into law, Siaw says an added challenge was that he didn’t have many role models.
“I always say, ‘What you see determines what you desire’, but there was no one I could point to and say that if I worked hard, I could be like them,” he shared. “I didn’t have the typical background of most corporate lawyers or partners in the city. I didn’t know any corporate lawyers and there were no black partners in city law firms that I knew of.”
Instead, Siaw read and was inspired by the autobiographies of successful people who’d come from similarly challenging beginnings, and tried to distil and apply their traits to his life. He says he chose to study law because it was a broad platform that could lead to varied opportunities in business, law, politics and across a wide array of industries. Similarly, commercial law was a broad choice that later allowed Siaw to focus on his passions for trade and enterprise – and for Africa.
Over the past 15 years, Siaw has helped facilitate the development of Africa’s economies and advocated for stronger UK–Africa business relations. In 2019 he earned an MBE for services to the law and his contribution to UK trade and investment in Africa, and in January 2023 he was appointed co-chair of the UK government’s Africa Investors Group.
Siaw is no stranger to the Powerlist; in fact, it’s the ninth consecutive year he’s been on it. “I truly believe that success is scientific, in that there are certain core traits which will get you over the mark, no matter what challenges you’re faced with,” Siaw commented, reflecting on how his journey and experiences have shaped him as a person, and shape the advice and example he seeks to share with younger generations.
“Setting a goal, designing a map to reach your goal, working hard, having that stick-to-itiveness and never-say-die attitude – these traits, if you apply them persistently, will always lead to the road to success.”
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