When heads of state and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies need to understand how shifts in the global political and economic landscape impact national security and affect their bottom line, they call on Ian Bremmer. One of the world’s foremost political scientists, his prodigious grasp of world affairs and exceptional ability to communicate those insights effectively to a global audience has made Bremmer one of the most recognizable and influential experts in the field of international relations.
Named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, appointed to the President’s Council of the Near East Foundation and knighted by the Government of Italy, his expertise and counsel are widely sought as a political consultant. “I am either thinking and writing about global issues or presenting about global issues, learning, aggregating and putting that knowledge out there,” he says, describing the nature of his chosen profession. Far from the ivory towers of academia the more pragmatic Bremmer thrives on applying his knowledge to directly benefit both governments and the private sector.
Credited with bringing the discipline of political science to the financial markets, Bremmer’s contributions to the study of political risk have proven indispensable to Wall Street, including famously creating the first global political risk index, or GPRI, that investors rely upon to help decipher how political developments will move markets and shape investment opportunities around the world.
As President and Founder of Eurasia Group, the leading political risk research and consulting firm with offices in New York City, Washington, London, Tokyo, São Paulo, San Francisco, and Singapore, Bremmer has cultivated a network of experts and resources around the world catering to the firm’s more than 600 financial, corporate and government clients willing to pay handsomely to navigate the increasingly uncertain geopolitical landscape defined by U.S. presidential politics, Britain leaving the EU, and upheaval in the Middle East. With earnings of $100 million last year, and a social media following of 4 million people, the firm’s success has provided Bremmer with a global reach.
“If I write something or say something, the ability to actually have an impact on people that matter, to make them think differently and act differently is much greater having built this firm up over 20 years. It’s what I enjoy the most, being able to become a more effective political scientist, and speak more insightfully about the world because I have all these incredible analysts working with me. It means we can take better ideas and do something meaningful with them.”
At a time when the world is in the midst of another transformation, to have an analytical bent that is not attached to any one world view appeals to me personally, emotionally and intellectually.
A prolific writer, Bremmer is the author of numerous best-selling books, including Us vs.Them: The Failure of Globalism, Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in G-Zero World and The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall, and a regular contributor to the Financial Times, Washington Post, New York Times and Time magazine, where he serves as a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large. A staple commentator on international news networks including CNN, CNBC and BBC, he also devotes his time as Global Research Professor at New York University.
In each forum, Bremmer has set a standard of excellence in the quality of his work. It is however, how he defined his own path to success that truly sets him apart. An academic prodigy accepted to college at the young age of 15, he graduated with a PhD from Stanford University in his early twenties. Despite pleas from his supervisor to pursue a full-time teaching career, after two years he left a lucrative and highly coveted faculty position to move to New York City, seeking a more practical path to the private sector that would enable him to put his expertise to use in a more applied manner. When he discovered no such avenue existed, Bremmer boldly launched his own career, convincing senior executives of Goldman Sachs and then Lehman brothers to hire him as a political risk consultant. Within the course of a few weeks, he had negotiated commitments from more of the world’s biggest companies including Exxon and Shell to support his idea. In 1998, with just 25,000 dollars, he founded the Eurasia Group.
“The only way to do it was to create it. And I am particularly proud of the fact that over twenty years I really created an industry, not just Eurasia Group, but for a whole bunch of other companies that are today providing jobs for political scientists who deepen understanding of how politics impacts the world. And that is a great thing.”
The demands of his high-profile and globe-trotting career are a world away from his humble roots growing up in the housing projects of Chelsea in East Boston, Massachusetts. His German-born father, a Korean War Veteran, died when he was only 4 years old, leaving Ian to be raised by his Armenian mother and grandmother with little help or money. His burgeoning intellect and independent nature however, were readily apparent even at a very young age. Far more advanced than his peers academically, he was transferred not one, but two grade levels above of his age group.
At the same time his grandmother, an independent-minded activist who founded the Silver-Haired Senators, a group of local senior citizens who got involved with topical issues, encouraged Bremmer to develop a budding interest in politics and the workings of government. He remembers as a second-grade student, having to write a letter to the Lieutenant-Governor as part of a class project. His grandmother took it one step further, and obtained an address to mail his message, which was so well-received, it was printed in the local newspaper a few weeks later.
From his mother, he also gained an understanding and appreciation of his Armenian heritage. Deeply distrustful of most organizations, the sole exception in the family was AGBU, which awarded Bremmer a scholarship when he was accepted to Tulane University as a 15-year old. Although his tuition was already paid by the University, Bremmer says it was AGBU’s affirmation that meant the most to him. “As a 15-year old kid coming from the projects, the fact that Armenians at AGBU wanted to give me a scholarship meant they believed in my potential. They took a special interest in me; we kept in touch all through school and even beyond. It was like having another mentor that genuinely cared about my success.”
It was during that first year in college that Bremmer’s passion for world affairs was awakened. Having never traveled anywhere outside the United States before, he signed up for a class trip to tour what was then the Soviet Union, including Armenia. “Here I was in the so-called Evil Empire, seeing people who looked like my Uncle Nubar and experiencing first hand that they were not the villain we were told to believe. It was fascinating and opened my eyes to how different the world is.”
His first trip abroad in the late 80’s had a profound impact, transforming what had until then been just an abstract concept in the news to something real and relevant. This led him to study economics and political science. Specializing in post-Soviet politics, he returned a few years later amidst the excitement of a historical transformation to witness the end of the Soviet Empire. “I lived through that experience, befriended dissidents who would later become ministers and leaders.” In October of 1993 Bremmer watched transfixed as the Parliament Building in Moscow, known as the White House, was being shelled amidst a coup. “Being able to experience history like that was formative for me. It made me want to do what I did and I remember thinking, this is who I am.”
The experience also taught Bremmer a valuable lesson about preconceived bias that has stayed with him ever since, helping him clearly assess different views of the world. “At a time when the world is in the midst of another transformation, to have an analytical bent that is not attached to any one world view appeals to me personally, emotionally and intellectually.” As a result he has intentionally never aligned himself with any political faction. “I have never liked political partisanship nor ever affiliated with one party because I don’t like the idea of political ideology,” he says. “It helps you avoid critical thinking.”
To be truly successful as a political consultant in Bremmer’s worldview, critical thinking is just one of three key attributes he advises his students to develop who come to him seeking career advice.
“It’s absolutely critical to have the content and expertise,” he says. “But being bright is not enough. You have to also be able to communicate that knowledge effectively and articulate it in a way that is easily digestible to various audiences. Third, you have to know how the game is played, who are the people that matter and how does that influence work. You can’t possess just one or two of those skills, but must be able to master all three.”
If global political instability is the capital on which Bremmer trades, the current state of world affairs implies his particular expertise helping others understand the world will be more in demand than ever. At the same time, with his insights to guide them, world leaders and titans of industry will be well-positioned to navigate the uncertainty and negotiate a new global order.
Banner Photo by Dirk Eusterbrock