Nearly 20 years ago, Judith Donovan CBE made history when she became the first female President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce. The cigar-smoking businesswoman became known as one of Yorkshire’s first entrepreneurs after starting her own marketing agency in 1982. She sold JDA for an undisclosed sum to her managers in 2000 and embarked on a successful post-business career in public service.
Almost two decades on, the chamber has appointed its second female president in Suzanne Watson, the founder and managing director of Ilkley-based Approach PR, who succeeds Nick Garthwaite, the managing director of manufacturer Christeyns UK, at the helm of the business organisation, which was founded in 1851.
“Better late than never!” said Judith. “It might have taken me 149 years but it shouldn’t have taken another 19 to get the second female. But with female leaders in virtually every major civic role in Bradford, the city is now setting the pace. The chamber is still one of the best in the country so I know Suzanne will love every minute, as I did, and I wish her all the very best.”
Suzanne founded Approach PR in 2000 after starting her career as a newspaper reporter in North Wales and West Yorkshire. Working for a local paper provides a privileged glimpse into the rich tapestry of life and Suzanne used her experience in journalism to establish a successful public relations and social media agency with clients in the manufacturing, retail, charity, food and drink, hospitality and tourism sectors.
She said: “This is a time of immense change and progression for our city and district and it feels the right time for a small business owner to be taking on the position of President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce.
“Our district has around 15,500 businesses and of those, 99 per cent are micro to medium sized. Everyday, they, like me, live and breathe the challenges caused by productivity barriers such as transport, connectivity, the skills gap and funding. My own experience puts me in a strong place to be a voice and a representative of our business community.
“After working alongside Nick, who has done a wonderful job for the last two years, I feel confident that with the support of a great chamber team and the business community behind me, we can do great things for Bradford’s profile, development and economic growth.”
As Suzanne points out, the vast majority of companies are micro to medium in size. Yet their views often struggle to register among the political and business elite in Westminster and the City of London. Let’s not overlook that small businesses employ 16.3m people in the UK and generate a combined £2 trillion in annual turnover. In this respect, Suzanne will provide a valuable perspective as a small business owner.
High-growth companies attract a lot of media interest, especially those that achieve dizzying valuations. As they chase the next billion-dollar business, investors seem to forget that unicorns only exist in the land of make-believe. SMEs provide a reassuring counterbalance to all the hype, steadily generating profits, jobs and tax revenues that together maintain a level of prosperity in communities across the UK.
As Suzanne notes, these businesses rely on good road and rail links, fast and reliable broadband, confident and capable school leavers and access to finance to help meet demand for their goods and services. On the face of it, these aren’t big asks but with the national conversation preoccupied with Brexit, the bread-and-butter investment decisions on transport, connectivity, skills and funding are being delayed. This is where we need the chamber’s voice to be heard loudest and clearest. I’m sure Suzanne will do a sterling job and we look forward to working with her.
On behalf of the Bradford Economic Partnership, I would like to place on record our thanks for the significant contribution made by Nick Garthwaite over the last two years, especially with the creation of Bradford Manufacturing Week, which has encouraged countless young people to consider careers in industry. With role models like Nick, Judith and Suzanne, they won’t be short of inspiration to follow their dreams in business.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club