Farewell to chamber chief

IN 15 years as chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Shipping, Bob Feltwell has travelled more than half a million miles and given nearly 1,000 interviews promoting Suffolk businesses to the rest of the world.

IN 15 years as chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Shipping, Bob Feltwell has travelled more than half a million miles and given nearly 1,000 interviews promoting Suffolk businesses to the rest of the world.

So tomorrow, when he stands from the role, he will leave with plenty to be proud of.

As reflects on his time as chief executive of Suffolk Chamber he recounts one success story after another and has plenty of examples of its trailblazing activities over the years.

There's Chamber Telecom, for example, a company he set up to offer chambers across the country cheap telephone calls, which has made a profit of £1million in the four years since its inception. It recently developed into Chamber Utilities which has added the supply of gas and electricity to its portfolio.

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Then there are the chamber's highly successful monthly networking lunches and its substantial growth in membership, which has increased during his time from 600 to 1,500.

He has also successfully chased debts on behalf of local businesses as far away as South America through the worldwide network of chambers and has helped Suffolk Chamber achieve ISO:9001 and Investors in People accreditations.

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And of course there are the trade missions. Bob has personally led 35 missions, mainly to the Far East, which he believes have netted the region more than £60million worth of business.

But his proudest moment came towards the end of last year when chamber member Karen Finch of the Hearing Care Centre in Ipswich was named Entrepreneur of the Year in the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) annual awards at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Bob Feltwell grew up on a family poultry farm in Sussex. At university he gained an honours degree in economics and business studies, specialising in industry.

In the late 1960s he became a graduate apprentice with Rolls Royce aero engine division at Derby and later project manager for the Trident B3 booster engine.Sensing all was not well with the company, he left before the crash to join Standard Telephones and Cables, where he was involved in production in the UK and Belgium.

A period with the Pauls Group in Ipswich followed, which gave him his first taste of the benefits of international trade, before spending 11 years with Eastern Counties Farmers, running four production plants and a distribution fleet for the whole of East Anglia.

He joined the chamber in 1990, becoming only the fourth chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce since it was first registered in August 1884.

At that time the chamber's offices were in Foundation Street, Ipswich. Bob masterminded the subsequent move to the Suffolk Enterprise Centre in Russell Road before becoming involved in the campaign to bring the then derelict Felaw Maltings back to life.

The chamber supported the bid for Government funds to rebuild the maltings and provide office space for small businesses in Ipswich. It made the south kiln its home six years ago, a building which is now also home to other business advisory bodies such as Business Link and the Suffolk Development Agency, and is at the heart of the Waterfront regeneration.

Mr Feltwell, who is 62, has no doubt that now is the time for him to stand down as chief executive, although he will continue to assist the chamber as it continues under the leadership of new chief executive John Dugmore.

“There are so many things coming up that need a younger man to steer them,” he says. “Some of the developments on the horizon could take four or five years to come to fruition, so I was convinced that it was the right time to retire.

“I wish I was 10 years younger because there is so much to look forward to, but I have every confidence that John will continue the dynamic development of Suffolk Chamber. I am proud to be passing on a vibrant chamber to a new and younger chief executive who will take it forward. I know he will have the full support of the team here who really are the people who make it all happen.”

He adds: “It has been an interesting job. You never know what the day would bring - it was like opening a newspaper each morning. Now it is time to hand it over and watch its future development.”

n The full version of this interview appears in the March edition of EADT Suffolk Business magazine.

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