“My challenge is to reach out to everyone”: Meet Steven Holbrook, Chief Executive of the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce

It’s been a busy first few weeks in the role for the Chamber’s new Chief Executive. Steven Holbrook was born on the Isle of Wight and left to go to university. Business took him to the Middle East where he worked to become Chief Executive of a multi-million pound business.

Steven has already met with many members at Chamber events and wider business networking functions. Tom Stroud asks him about what members and the wider business community can expect from the Chamber’s new leader.

You’ve come back to the Island after many years in the Middle East. How will your experiences inform your role here?

What I hope to bring to the Chamber, its membership and the wider business community is someone who has been there and done it, with the experience and the contacts to personally be able to make a difference.  The Chamber is an amazing organisation with tremendous benefits. I want to take that package of benefits, that’s available to everyone, and use my experience to understand the details of what an individual business needs and to be able to add real value to them.  Most want to grow in business and that’s not simply the bottom line, it’s also knowledge and personal development and this is where the Chamber, with my added experience, can help and make a difference going forward. 

How will the Chamber be different with you at the top?

My focus is on the membership and Isle of Wight businesses. The Chamber can add value to our community regardless of the size of the business, from the very largest to the smallest. We need to be relevant and we need to add value that will make a difference. That’s what I want to achieve.

I want to get to a place where people are knocking down our door to join, inspired by the word on the street about what we are doing to help businesses. That’s opposed to having to approach businesses to tell them what we do and how we can help.  The goal is to let our actions and delivery speak for itself and for the Chamber to be at the top of people’s mind and conversations when they talk about their business and their interactions with us.

You’ve already met with lots of Chamber members and Island businesses. What have you learned from them?

I have learned that some businesses have ‘got it’. They understand the power of the Chamber, what it can do for them and how it can be a tool for growth and development; they have learned how to network and how that networking can be a catalyst for moving forward.  These businesses contact us every month, sending in their good news stories and successes for consideration for the monthly magazine, they come to the breakfasts to keep top of mind with their fellow entrepreneurs, and they engage in Expo and the Awards to help profile their achievements and broaden their market exposure.

Others are more passive – they use the Free Legal and HR helplines and enjoy the peace of mind offered by insurance and protection, but they don’t take things to the next stage where there is further added value.  They don’t consider enrolling their middle and upper management in the Chamber’s Mini MBA to further their knowledge and growth and help them break the glass ceiling they find themselves under before eventually leaving to join a competitor. They don’t enrol with the IW Lottery as a fun way to give back and motivate staff or enrol in the Health Benefit Scheme that comes from the Chambers Westfield Health scheme. They don’t engage with us to help them with their individual needs.

My challenge is to reach out to everyone, get people thinking in a different way, to enhance engagement, to break down walls of apathy and bring about the type of ‘out of the box’ thinking that can spark the next burst of growth in a business’s life cycle.

Is the Island a different place to do business?

Everywhere in the world is a different place to do business. Each culture and each region has its own etiquette and nuances. That’s what makes doing business across the globe so exciting and stimulating. In this regard the Island is no different. We have our own ways and our culture; this isn’t a negative, it’s what makes the Island what it is and why we are all here in the first place.  The challenge is to work within the Island psyche and deliver results that benefit it without alienating groups or making anyone feel excluded from the Chamber and what we can do to help them.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for the Island’s business community?

Some businesses really seem to have it together. They are centres of excellence and doing things that could be held up as best in class across the world. Seeing these businesses in action and the drive and motivation of these teams has been enlightening.

In other instances I find tremendous enthusiasm, but a lack of business knowledge that leaves the business very vulnerable.  When I ask about where they want to be in 5 years, 10 years or even next year, I get a blank expression.  Why are you in business, what do you want to achieve from your business, do you want to build it to sell, or do you want to pass it on to your children? What are your goals, can I read your Vision and Mission Statement to better understand your company? Those  questions tend  to get a blank response. These can seem immaterial or questions for another day, but they are a crucial place to start. If you don’t know where you are going then your team certainly doesn’t and how can you ever track to see how well you are doing?  This problem is often combined with gaps in understanding of basic accounting practices that can end up with profitable businesses getting into trouble due to cash flow and many other problems.

Growth, innovation and personal development needs to be front of mind for Island businesses. If you stand still you will die. Just because it has always been done in a certain way, it doesn’t mean it’s still the best way. If things are going badly, putting your head in the sand isn’t the solution.

Ask for help, learn from others, take time out to plan, strive to be the best you can be and seek to exceed your customers’ expectations. Don’t forget to enjoy it – if you aren’t, it’s probably a good idea to try something different. Passion is also key.

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