The Business Roundtable (BRT) was formed in 1972 with the aim of:
The BRT was established at a time of rising business activism in the US when political power in the Congress was becoming more decentralized and fragmented and party loyalty was weakening. Individual politicians were increasingly susceptible to pressure from a range of interest groups and there was a surge of legislation to protect the environment, workers and consumers. Whereas previously business leaders could lobby key people in Congress, now they had to adopt a new lobbying strategy that focused on a wide number of individual Congress people.
By the end of the 1970s the BRT had 192 members including most of the Fortune 100 companies, representing companies responsible for producing nearly half the nation’s GNP, and was perhaps the most powerful organization in the country.
Today the BRT claims membership of "chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies with more than $5 trillion in annual revenues and more than 12 million employees. A list of members can be found here. Membership is by invitation and there are currently 140 members.
BRT's five key areas of focus include education (see education section of this website).
The BRT has been ‘[c]redited with thwarting or watering down antitrust, environmental, prolabour, proconsumer, and tax-reform measures’. Its power comes from its top level membership, consisting of the CEOs of the top companies (currently employing some 10 million Americans and with combined revenue of almost $4 trillion – larger than the GDP of most countries).
The CEOs each became personally involved and did not delegate the task of political activism. BRT claims ‘Robust participation by member CEOs is a key strength of Business Roundtable.’ This mobilization of the most powerful businesspeople in the country is a deliberate strategy to ensure maximum impact. It is a conscious exercise of power.
As Albro Martin noted in the Harvard Business Review: ‘The Business Roundtable almost seems a belated recognition of the frequently demonstrated historical principle that royalty always commands more attention, respect and awe than the lesser nobility.’
The BRT in the US served as a model for other business roundtables in other countries, including the Business Roundtable in NZ and the Business Council of Australia. The European Round Table of Industrialists was also modeled on the BRT.