In Conversation With Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce
Jim McBride and Mike Forrester of the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce.
The Chambers of Commerce were established over 150 years ago to provide a unique network to serve local businesses in every region, and nation, of the UK. Members of our most local Chamber, the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, can access a whole host of support services to help individuals and businesses cut costs, raise their profile and grow their business. In fact, our local Chamber is the 7th largest Chamber in the UK out of 52 – not bad considering our geography and light population compared to more densely populated and commercially established Chamber areas.
Members of Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce can access a whole host of support services to help businesses cut costs, raise their profile and grow. Together, the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce team supports over 4000 business delegates who benefit from over 250 events every year. The benefits include networking, forums, awards, expos, membership directory and magazine, news and opportunities, social media streams and over 40 business services including HR and legal support, legal expenses, insurance, a healthcare phone service, personal business assistance as well as roadside assistance, primate health plan, private healthcare, access to competitive foreign exchange and shipping costs.
All this and more, in the form of having your views heard in Westminster, Whitehall and Brussels, expertise in importing or exporting advice and support for both new and experienced exporters and valuable training packages in subjects such as Leadership & Management, Personal Development, Safety in the Workplace, HR & Legislation and IT.
To discover more about what the team do and what the members say about them, take a look at their digital brochure and enjoy our interview with Chair Jim McBride and President Mike Forrester:
My alarm goes off …
Jim – I get straight out of bed, downstairs, paper, let the dog out …
Mike – I read the newspaper first (The Times), digitally of course, so I hit the ground running with the latest news.
How you met …
M – I first met Jim at a Chamber function 5 years ago; it was the Business Leaders dinner in Hereford. As founder of Orchard Valley Foods we’d just joined as a Strategic Member when Graham Biggs was President and Mike Ashton was CEO.
J – I’d been on the Board of the Chamber for 7 years. I originally became involved with the Chamber after moving to Lesk Engineers, a sub-contracting engineering company that makes components for aircraft, machine tools and the defence industry
I’m responsible for …
J – As Chair of the Board, I chair board meetings and oversee the correct running of Chamber, in line with members’ wishes and government legislation. There are 5 directors – Mike is one of them.
M – And corporate governance. We’re all from business backgrounds – various businesses, with wide experience of starting and running small organisations and then supporting their growth, providing guidance and advice to Sharon and the rest of the Chamber team as required.
J – And we always have some fun, we’re fairly like-minded people!
M – We do, that’s important. The Chamber is a business in its own right, providing services – but it also suffers from all of the issues that its members suffer from too, like recruitment and retention of staff.
How do people find out about you?
M – We have a very active Business Development team, some are based at our offices in Hereford Business Park and the rest at our Headquarters at Severn House in Worcester.
J – Via the Chamber website too …
M – Through referrals, members to non-members and general curiosity.
J – As well as our own business connections, through the Worcestershire Ambassadors, sport – I enjoy the Warriors, sponsored the blindfold mile for Sight Concern, climbed the Atlas Mountains for Megan Baker House – so we both have our own profiles.
M – Jim is very Worcester based and I’m based in Hereford – the Chamber is often criticised for being Worcester focussed but we try to have a balanced approach …
J – Yes, we support that balance with alternating Presidents – one from Hereford for 2 years and then one based in Worcester for the next 2 years.
M – We have approximately 1000 members in Worcestershire and 500 approximately in Herefordshire, so we try to be fair in lots of respects, to reflect the split. There may be more activities in Worcestershire due to the split but we’ve stepped up activities in Herefordshire over the last three years. So now there are more activities in Herefordshire and a growing membership base – a winning combination.
Why did you get the job?
J – I was the slowest to put my hand down! At my age (68) I have the experience and can make a difference.
M – It was not so much why I got the job but why I want it, I love seeing small businesses reach their potential …
J – The Chamber has grown since I’ve been on board, from 25-65 staff and we want to see it thrive and be even more successful. Making a difference is our primary driver.
M – Orchard Valley and I have been quite active at Chamber meetings since 2013 and within the Chamber, we’re both Worcester and Hereford area councillors, conduits for what’s happening at grass roots level. There are 15 members of the council, all business people in various role and I had the opportunity to join the council in Hereford – which I was interested in – at the same time the leadership was in turmoil and I applied for the vacant role of chairman and therefore got it! The role as chair of area council puts me on the Board of the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce which consists of:
Chair – Jim McBride
CEO – Sharon Smith
Vice President – Ben Mannion (Hewett Recruitment)
Vice President – Alison Holmes (Peritier)
President – Mike Forrester (Orchard Valley).
J – As an indication of what the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce achieves we could use the Chamber awards as an example. Our awards dinner has over 600 attendees. The winners then go through to the regional awards, in which we had 6 companies put forward to the national awards.
M – The awards really do raise the profile of businesses – many of which you’ve probably not heard of before as they often keep a low profile. So we encourage everyone to join in with the opportunities to win an award. Of course, you gain the publicity and exposure that brings – and you don’t have to be a member to enter! That’s how inclusive we are! Our events are often for non-members too – we invite lots of non-members to see how we operate and network.
J – We offer general membership as well as strategic membership, which opens up opportunities to approximately 70 business leaders for serious networking, 3-4 times a year.
There are around 100 people at each dinner with a high profile guest speaker – we’ve had a gold medal Paralympian, Mark Beaumont the record-breaking long-distance cyclist, for example. The opportunity is unparalleled.
My typical day …
M – I get up early and get on with it! I don’t have a typical day – but they usually consist of a number of Chamber activities or out and about with our own businesses.
J – Yes, and keeping fit. We both have interests outside of the Chamber.
M – Like the Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme, rugby at grass roots level …
J – I’m also the Chair and Trustee of Pershore Sports Club, a Worcester Ambassador as well as supporting Sight Concern and Megan Baker House.
M – I’m Chair of the Rugby Group at Luctonians RFC.
M – I spend time with my family; I have two daughters and one granddaughter and like to support them where required. The granddaughter is only 18 months old and I’m planning her career already!
J – I do the cooking and enjoy that, I also have 1 granddaughter – she’s 8 years old and just fantastic.
What’s your lasting legacy?
J – I’d like people to think of me as a decent, honest, hardworking bloke who makes a difference and that my children respect me. I’ve always said to them that you need to be able to look in the mirror and know that whatever you’ve done is ok. Integrity mainly – by what you achieve and what you do.
M – My passion for small business and helping people make it through the tough times, like the 2 years in business milestone. And supporting those without as many opportunities – through training and great successes. Although I don’t just help businesses keep on track – I also enjoy helping great people achieve their successes – supporting them from leaving school with little education to just finishing an MBA, for example. And others, who are finishing university courses, graduate programmes etc. You look at yourself and give others the opportunities you didn’t have yourself. I had to work hard to have educational opportunities and like to give others confidence and financial support to do the same.
J- We’re privileged to be able to support businesses and charities – we live in a great part of the world. We’re lucky.
What I wanted to be when I grew up
J – It keeps changing! I wanted to be an architect. Then an engineer. I trained to be an accountant. I achieved none of the above!
M – I was going to be a civil engineer so my formal training was in that. Then I took a summer job in a large food factory and stayed for 8 years because I loved it! The company helped me complete my graduate education. I’m doing what I wanted to do, now I want to do more of it.
Do you want to retire?
J – No. I like to keep busy. I like holidays too, so I don’t want to stop. There are still lots of challenges, I just don’t know what they are yet!
M – The dynamic process of small businesses, Chamber activities, charitable concerns won’t stop – even if we do! Nothing moves forward unless there’s energy – and there’s certainly lots of that at the Chamber!
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You can read the series of In Conversation With here