Richard Swart

May 31, 2018

Richard Swart grew up in South Africa and, along with his father, challenged the apartheid regime. He worked as a journalist for six years at the Sunday Tribune Durban, which took him to the US, before he entered the business world, establishing a manufacturing facility for Berger Closures in Peterlee 30 years ago. Though he has been in the UK for more than half his life, Richard’s passion for South Africa endures and he is committed to forging closer links between the two countries, as non-executive chairman at the North East England Chamber of Commerce and a board director at the South African Chamber of Commerce UK

Past

I grew up during the Apartheid era in South Africa when there was total segregation. My family lived in Durban and my father, Ray, trained as a lawyer. But he was so against the regime that, at the age of 25, he became an MP with the Progressive Party (which by state law could only have white members, such were the times we were living in) and was a vociferous opponent of apartheid.

He was a fearless, principled, conviction politician, who sought justice and equality for all people. Given that background, I became a political journalist in my early 20s, reporting regularly on the growing number of bombs, state brutality, demonstrations, and two states of emergency being put in place. It was a dangerous time – as apartheid crumbled under internal and international pressure and the regime became more and more desperate, my father and our family received death threats.

While it was harrowing, it made me highly independent and never afraid to take up a challenge. With that in mind, I found myself for a short time in the US, before a call came from out-of-the blue with a challenge to establish a site in a corner of the world that was very much a mystery to me – North East England.

Present

Establishing a factory for Berger Closures in Peterlee was a huge task as I had never been in business before. I had to learn fast and quickly about the importance of retained customers and maintaining quality products and service. Thirty years ago there were a great many customers and competitors across the UK and Europe. The industry has consolidated greatly during this time and the market is now dominated by a few multinationals.

Like all businesses, Berger Closures are committed to being as efficient as possible. Technology has impacted every business sector and we are constantly investing in this area. That said, it is the commitment and flexibility of my colleagues at Peterlee that has made the site the success it has become.

Future

Our future plans are very much about global expansion to ensure a meaningful presence in each key geographic region. In recent years, Berger has completed a number of acquisitions in the US, Italy, Germany and Turkey and we are currently eyeing potential opportunities in the UK and elsewhere.

I care passionately about South Africa and the North East of England and will continue to strengthen relations between the two in my small way, as council member and chair of International Trade at the North East England Chamber of Commerce and as board director of International Relations, South African Chamber of Commerce UK.

The success of the initiatives to and from each since 2012 has been quite satisfying and a nice way to give something back to two wonderful countries.

Timeline

1981: Works as a senior journalist, Sunday Tribune Durban

1988: Appointed managing director, Berger Closures (UK)

2008: Becomes council member and chair of international trade, North East England Chamber of Commerce

2009: Appointed managing director, August Berger Metallwarenfabrik (Berger Group Europe), Karlsruhe, Germany

2011: Appointed managing director, Berger Closing Rings (Changsu) China

2012: Appointed global operations director, Berger Group Europe

2012: Becomes board chairman for Go Global & North East Worldwide Limited

2015: Appointed global Sales and Quality Director, Berger Group Europe

2015: Becomes non-executive director, North East England Chamber of Commerce

2018: Becomes board director of International Relations, South African Chamber of Commerce UK

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