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'It's time to move on,' says outgoing Norfolk Chamber chief Caroline Williams after 17 years at top

Caroline Williams Norfolk Chamber of Commerce chief executive. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Caroline Williams Norfolk Chamber of Commerce chief executive. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

The outgoing boss of Norfolk's biggest business lobbying group said she was leaving an "innovative and dynamic" organisation in good shape, as her successor was revealed.

Caroline Williams is stepping down as chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce this month after 17 years, and will be succeeded in June by serial entrepreneur Chris Sargisson.

As she prepares to begin a new role as a business coach and executive mentor, Mrs Williams reflected on her time at the helm - the highlights, the lowlights and the lessons learned – and pledged to continue supporting Norfolk’s business community.

“When I took over the Norfolk Chamber in 2000, it was in a pretty rough state: no money - in fact it was deep in debt - a poor profile and no influence,” she said.

“But what the chamber has always had is a strong loyal membership. It is the members who are the chamber and together we have done a pretty good job.

“Norfolk Chamber is now an innovative, dynamic organisation with money in the bank, influence locally and in Westminster, and with a strong membership who are benefiting from great services.

“We have achieved many of our goals but as ever there is still a lot to do to secure an ongoing growing Norfolk economy.”

Mrs Williams joined the chamber when the Enterprise Partnership - an organisation made up of Business Link, the Training and Enterprise Council and Norfolk Chamber - broke up in 2000.

Since then she has raised the profile of the group, which now has more than 940 members, and lists among her proudest achievements demonstrating to the business community that it could have an influence on a regional and national stage, and encouraging public and private sectors to work together.

“The Norfolk Chamber is in good shape to be taken forward, so it’s time to move on,” she added.

Mrs Williams was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award at the EDP Business Awards last year, and was made an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours.

Chamber president Jonathan Cage said: “We wish Caroline all the best in her new career.

“She has played a key role in the success of the Norfolk Chamber since 2000 so it’s been an extremely important exercise to select the right candidate both to build on Caroline’s many achievements and take this important organisation forward.”

Caroline Williams, in her own words

A few of my proudest moments...

• Being awarded the 2016 EDP Business Award for Outstanding Achievement...

• ...Closely followed by being made an MBE in the Queen’s Honours.

• The opening of the final dualled section of the A11 – other chamber chief executives think I am weird getting so excited about a road.

• But I am just as excited about the new trains which are coming soon... so I guess I am weird.

• The work we have done, and are continuing to do, with young people and really changing lives.

• Having the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Norfolk business community with ministers, including chancellors and prime ministers, and the Queen herself, at a garden party, about what Norfolk business needs - locally, regionally and globally.

• Developing an innovative dynamic chamber team; something that all of Norfolk can be proud of.

• Spending time with great Norfolk businesses!

... And my trickiest moments

• Discovering that, despite tight financial systems, our assistant accountant had cleared out our bank account. He did go to jail but it was a tricky period, and challenging to maintain our reputation and get every penny back – which we achieved.

• The recession of 2008 – not good for any small business.

• Keeping my cool when the government of the day reneged on infrastructure commitments like the A47, changed the education system for the umpteenth time and devolution failed in this area.

The lessons I have learned

• Confidence has to be worked at and lack of confidence held me back more than it should have done, until I started to work with a wonderful coach, Rachel Paul, who continued, over many years, to enable me to find my own resourcefulness.

• Be hungry for knowledge – it’s so much fun and the world around us is constantly changing. There are always ways to improve ourselves and our businesses.

• Work with and employ good people who you trust. If they’re not good enough, don’t be afraid to let them go... it took me way too long to learn this lesson.

• Listen to advice but use your own intuition to run your business… again, this took a while to learn.

• Being a non-academic working mother does not have to hold you back in business. But ensure you have a vision, passion and good people around you.

• The government does listen to business if you are clear about what is needed and back it up with an economic case.

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