Cover story: Welcome Mr. President

WorkBox UK Ltd MD Matt Jackson has taken the President’s chains of office at Sheffield Chamber of Commerce’s AGM – and outgoing President Steve Manley, joint MD of Universal Office Products (and a good mate of Matt’s) was the one to hand them over. unLTD’s Jill Theobald put away her shorthand pad and let them interview each other on their achievements and aspirations … and refereed a bit of friendly banter, too!


Steve Manley: Obviously we’re good mates and I know all about you. But tell the unLTD readers about your Chamber journey from becoming a member to becoming President.

Matt Jackson: When I first started out 13 years ago I went to the Chamber’s start-up agency SENTA. I joined as a member, went to several events, became busy, got involved with some other organisations and stepped away from the Chamber. Then about eight years ago you joined the Chamber Council and suggested I got involved. I got in touch with (executive director) Richard Wright and enjoyed finding out how the Chamber worked internally, how it lobbied and how crucial it was as the voice of the business for the city and more widely geographically. I took the role of Junior Vice President after you became Vice President so we’ve gone through this whole cycle together!

Obviously when your home city asks you to represent the business community to the outside world it’s a real honour. But it’s a really important role to be taking on right now at a time of such great social and economic change. I’ve certainly never known a period like it in my lifetime. We’ve also got a new generation coming through into the working world with aspirations and attitudes that are considerably different to Generation X, my generation, and previous generations.

Steve: Each President likes to put their own stamp on their year. What is your theme?

Modernisation and the Chamber of the Future – I want to make sure the Chamber is fit for purpose now and in the future. I want us to be relevant to traditional businesses as well as new and up and coming businesses because I do think there’s a bit of a disconnect with the latter.

Steve: Agreed. One of my two main aims during my presidency was similarly to counter this misconception that the Chamber is an old boys club but that’s a long-term mission. My year and highlights like the President’s Dinner were a start but it’s not a one-off hit – challenging and changing those misconceptions is going to be a four- or five-year cycle.

Matt: Yes, and I know that following you and then me we have Alexis (Krachai. Managing Director Counter Context) as President who is also keen on change. My  approach is all about evolution. The perception of the chamber as an old boys’ club is absolutely not the case.

We live in a great place and we need to link those different sectors and elements together so we can connect and grow. There are things going on in the digital world that other businesses could benefit from but there isn’t enough cross-pollination.

I will be going out to meet key stakeholders in various sectors and encourage better collaboration and I really want to develop that over the year. I’ve got ideas for  a conference centered around technology that brings different sectors  together. I’ll be looking at our premises too. The lease is coming up on Albion House (the Chamber’s current HQ on Savile Street) and we may move next year. I want our new space to be very different, I’m looking at co-working, collaboration, hot desking and ideally I’d like to have a business coffee bar so people can just drop by. At the moment members don’t tend to visit our offices unless it’s for training or international trade. I want our doors to be open to our members so they can pop in, meet new people, hot desk, collaborate, work. It’s what I do – WorkBox UK is all about helping businesses change the space they work in so I will really be driving that for the Chamber while am President.

Steve: With the challenges facing the city do you want to work with Sheffield City Council, LEP, and others to try and corral more of a joined-up thinking process?

Matt: We need to tackle what I see as regional squabbling and organisational squabbling and that can only start with a conversation. A lot in the past has been driven by personality clashes so we need to work through that. The chamber needs to be open and willing to working with others. We need to work with the Council and other stakeholders on creating an environment for business that provides what they require and aspire to.

Part of that will be continuing to champion entrepreneurship and youth enterprise – your second mission, Steve! Is the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce Business and Enterprise Academy what you are most proud of from your year in office?

Steve: Absolutely. I took the chains of office in 2018 on a mission to encourage youth enterprise because its importance. I became involved with Young Enterprise – a non-profit organisation working with schools and colleges to inspire the next generation of young entrepreneurs – while a student myself at Loxley College in 1993/4.

But I wasn’t sure until a few months into my Presidency how I was going to deliver on that and create something that was sustainable and tangible after my year in office, too. So, after pledging to support young entrepreneurs, I was thrilled to establish the Academy with The Sheffield College. My long-term mission is by 2029 our Academy has led to the creation of the first Sheffield College Entrepreneur millionaire.

You can easily fall into the trap of a scattergun approach when it comes to Presidency themes because it is a part-time role you are combining with your day job and that’s why I settled on the main one of young enterprise. You need a direct, tunnel-vision approach in order to look back after your year and be able to say you’ve delivered on that theme.

Matt: We need to continue to champion young people and there’s also the question of where do you go if you want to start-up a business but you’re a little older than Academy age – say 22, 23– and I know you’re involved in developing that side of entrepreneur support beyond the academy?

Steve: Yes, because there is no clear path for you as a start-up at that age, so I’m continuing to work with Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Hallam University and The Sheffield College so we can work out the options for people and try and draw up that roadmap.

Over the last year, we’ve been working closely together, and as Vice President you’ve been shadowing me. What part of the role are you most excited about?

Matt: Becoming the next Steve Manley! No, it’s the continued modernisation of the Chamber that really excites me. We’ve got a new Director of Operations ,  Stella Steele who is young and dynamic and will bring a fresh way of thinking to the organisation, and two new board members – James Needham from Boeing joining as NED and Karen Mosley of HLM architects as junior vice president.

Steve: And what event are you looking forward to the most?

Matt: It was going to be the Business Awards but after your President’s Dinner it’s now that! It’s going to be different next year too – I want the event to be less formal and more of a party! Next question, boss.

Steve: Not anymore, I should call you that now! You’ve taken my crown.

Matt: You used to call me Junior when you were Vice President!

Steve: We had a Lord Mayor in Magid Magid who totally changed people’s perception of the role. Would you want to do something similar to shape the role of Chamber President?

Matt: Well I am wearing my Timberlands today – I nearly wore my Doc Martens! But yes, modernisation of the chamber with our new board and the planned new premises I am sure will play a key part in changing the perception of the President’s role.

Steve: You’ve been on the board for two years. What changes have you seen?

Matt: It’s a different dynamic in terms of sector and personalities and that’s driving change within the Chamber.

Steve: It was fantastic to be able to report a record year at the AGM – with an increase in profit from -£28k from a few years ago to a surplus in excess of £63,000.

Matt: The bottom line is to drive change. The financial issues are behind us, we have new members and new businesses joining and the new board members. It does feel fresh.

Steve: As well as Chamber President you’re also chair of the board. What’s your leadership style to lead the board?

Matt: Listen. Be firm and fair and to the point.

Steve: Is there any particular business sector you want the Chamber to engage with more?

Matt: Everything digital including AI. That’s somewhere we’re not seen as leading the way on and we’re just not aligned.

Steve: Tell the unLTD readers a bit about Matt Jackson the person!

I was born in Sheffield, went to school here, and have worked in and around the city for the last 25 years. I’m a family man, proud Yorkshireman, petrol head and music fan. I still believe I’m 25 and won’t grow up! My attitude is ‘enjoy every day’. I lost my brother in my 20s and that changed my whole life. It shapes every single day – I know it’s important to live life flat out and to the maximum.

Matt: My turn for a question! Which Sheffield business inspires you the most?

Steve: The Milestone Group. They’ve stood the test of time for over 10 years, they’re a young business, very forward-thinking which has helped revolutionise Kelham Island, they’ve diversified and put Sheffield on the map.

Matt: Definitely, I know (founder) Matt Bigland , I was in the early years of my business when he started up, too. Who’s the most interesting person you’ve met in the role?

Steve: Can I have two?! Helen Sharman who I interviewed for my President’s dinner and welcomed into the Chamber Hall of Fame. Despite being the first British cosmonaut and being world famous, it was like talking to a normal friend. She was so welcoming and humble and delighted to be welcomed into the Hall of Fame – you could just tell how genuine she is. Also her desire to work with and inspire the next generation through her work with young people, promoting science and STEM subjects fitted with my President’s theme perfectly.

The second would be Richard Caborn. He was helpful and supportive from the outset of my Presidency and is so well-connected, passionate about the city and a great ambassador for Sheffield, so it was great to spend time with him.

Matt: What are you looking forward to the most after being a president?

Steve: I’ve loved the role and feel like I worked in a different sector and business for another year. However the challenge has been running your own business which is very busy, too, and having your own private life all at the same time. The time as President has been an amazing journey, but it’s been an extremely manic year! I’ve learned so much and enjoyed it, and it’s invigorated me to keep pushing on all other fronts in my life.

I’m staying on the board and really looking forward to seeing how the Chamber changes, develops and progresses with different styles of leadership, the new board line-up – and you as President! I’ve known you a long time and I know you’ll do a good job!