A businesswoman who received royal recognition for promoting female entrepreneurship has been inducted as the new president of East Midlands Chamber.
Eileen Richards MBE, founder and managing director of ER Recruitment in Leicester, took over the chains of office from Dawn Edwards at the Chamber’s annual general meeting, which was held virtually for the first time on Friday, December 11.
She is the co-founder of the Chamber’s Enterprising Women network, which will mark its 25th year in 2022.
In her first speech as president, Eileen set out three priorities for the year ahead – to encourage inter-membership relations and trading; support the region’s future business leaders; and lobby hard in Government for investment to aid the East Midlands’ post-Covid economic recovery.
Eileen, who has been a board member for more than three years and was vice-president in 2020, said: “The Chamber plays a huge role in the region and it’s an organisation I’ve worked with pretty much the entire time I have been in business.
“I have experienced first-hand the excellent range of services available to members, and have witnessed the incredible talent and experience we have on our board – not least from Dawn, who has done such a fantastic job in difficult circumstances as president.
“I feel really honoured to become president for 2021 as it’s a fantastic accolade that comes with great responsibility.
“I’ll carry out the role of president like I run my business – the members will be at the heart of everything we do, just like people are in recruitment.
“I might not be able to solve the economic recovery all on my own but I’d like to get some great individuals and businesses together within our membership to make a difference.
“Hopefully, in 12 months’ time, people can see what we’ve achieved.”
East Midlands Chamber chief executive Scott Knowles added: “Eileen is dedicated to supporting the Chamber and its members as they navigate post-pandemic and post-Brexit – two of the greatest challenges to the UK economy happening simultaneously.
“She is already a leading voice in the business community and her role as president of the Chamber will give her the platform to showcase what she is passionate about – the amazing business community we have here in the East Midlands.
“I look forward to working very closely with Eileen in what will prove to be an interesting year for business.”
Dawn Edwards reflects on ‘rollercoaster’ year
In her outgoing speech, Dawn, founder and managing director of Nottinghamshire-based Challenge Consulting, reflected on a “rollercoaster” year in office that has been hugely disrupted by coronavirus and bookended by Brexit.
She spoke about some of the Chamber events she had been able to attend before lockdown, including the Christmas lunch and Celebrating East Midlands Culture and Communities gala.
Dawn also praised the region’s “unwavering support and sense of community” that has remained constant amid all the uncertainty of 2020.
“I am incredibly proud to have been able to represent the business community in the East Midlands, and to have been given a platform and a voice at a time so critical to business,” said Dawn.
“Being a collective business voice and the many lobbying activities that the Chamber engages in have been incredibly powerful – the fruits of which can be seen in some of the decisions and support packages provided by the Government.
“The year ahead will no doubt also be a challenging one. With the Brexit transition period coming to an end and negotiations still ongoing, we must continue to make our collective voice heard.
“The past year has proven how vital it is for us all to work together. Alliances, partnerships and collaborations have been forged in the most unlikely of places, through the most unlikely of circumstances, and present a real opportunity for the future.
“I can now look ahead in the knowledge that I’m handing over the chains to someone who I admire hugely in Eileen, and I know she will bring her own brand of leadership and enthusiasm to the role.”
Scott added: “Dawn’s year as president has arguably been the most challenging for any president in recent years.
“The pandemic and its impact on the business community is well rehearsed by all of us and Dawn has navigated this, supporting the Chamber, our members and the wider business community by holding to Government to account and being the leading voice for businesses at this critical time.
“Her tenacity and support for the SME community has been unfaltering and I want to thank her for her support to me and the wider Chamber team during this time.”
Two new board members and vice-president also appointed
As well as a new president, Lindsey Williams was named vice-president. She has been chief executive of Derbyshire-based Futures Housing Group since 2003 and is a passionate advocate for social housing.
Lindsey is a strategic leader on various boards and is an active member of the Chartered Institute of Housing, playing a key role in helping boost the housing sector’s profile with central Government as part of the National Housing Federation’s Political Positioning Group.
She said: “I’m delighted to be part of East Midlands Chamber and to become our new vice president.
“Building relationships and being part of a community of businesses from across the region is really important to me and to Futures. I look forward to working together closely with members over the next few years.”
Two new board members, Craig Brothers and Neil Williams, were appointed to replace Robert Mayo and Stephen Midgley, who have retired.
Craig is co-founder and managing director of Affari Media, a Nottingham-based creative marketing agency.
The company develops immersive technology solutions, including virtual reality, augmented reality and holography for a global client base.
Craig said: “As a native of the East Midlands, I'm extremely honoured and proud to have been asked to serve as a board member for East Midlands Chamber.
“I look forward to adding to the great work the team at the Chamber has achieved in supporting the membership, notably its award of British Chambers of Commerce Chamber of the Year 2018.
“A real desire I have during my tenure is to enhance the region in nurturing talent, in particular linking my work with Nottingham Trent University’s enterprise advisory board and the Chamber’s Generation Next network.”
Neil has spent more than 30 years in the media and public relations profession, including for GlaxoSmithKline and Rolls-Royce.
He is currently a PR manager based in the East Midlands at Amazon, which recently became a strategic partner of the Chamber.
“I’m delighted to have been asked to serve as a board member, and really looking forward to working with an organisation that has done so much for business in the region,” said Neil.
The AGM also included guest speeches from senior representatives of the Business of the Year winners for Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire at the recent East Midlands Chamber Business Awards – John Beswick, director of PR Marriott Drilling; James Healey, COO at Air IT; and Nick Parker, managing director of db automation and Premier Bowl Feeders.
More than 100 businesses were celebrated in a presentation that recognised longstanding membership, ranging from 25 to 65 years, and will receive certificates from the Chamber.
Rolls-Royce is the longest serving member, having joined the former Derbyshire Chamber of Commerce on April 15, 1908.