April/May 2019

A new era for pro-manchester

In September 2018, Sam Booth was appointed chief executive of pro-manchester. GM Business Connect have long been supporters of the business development organisation, and dropped into their Spinningfields HQ recently to interview Sam, looking into what decisions led her to where she is today, who got her there and what she’s most proud of in her career so far.

What led you to Manchester?
“I grew up in Congleton and went to university in Sheffield where I studied the History of Art, Film & Design. After my course I went travelling, and then looked to settle and work on my career. I never wanted to go to London. It was too far, and I wanted a city that I could get lost in but didn’t have quite the same chaos as the capital. Manchester is like a big village. It’s so vast and has so many exciting things going on, but at the same time, it’s small enough to be easily connected. It’s also got an incredible history culturally and musically and has birthed some of the most amazing pioneers.”

The city that inspired her lead her to a small business development organisation called pro-manchester eleven years ago, where she started as the Future pro-manchester manager. Since creating the young professional’s group, Sam has seen people from the original committee start their own businesses and become senior figures in large businesses in the region. As an original member of the committee, Sam has followed that path, now taking on the role as chief executive.

Tell us about Future pro-manchester?
“Future pro-manchester and the Made in Manchester Awards will always be something I’m hugely proud of. This year we had 450 people at The Emirates Old Trafford celebrating the incredible young talent we have in the region. I think the awards really encourage people to celebrate the achievements that young people are making, sometimes at really young ages. In 2019 we had a 20-year-old being recognised for pioneering her own apprenticeship course because it didn’t fit with what she wanted to learn. There are really incredible people in our region and I’m delighted that we celebrate them each year.”

Some of the Future pro-manchester committee alumni include Tim Grogan, now partner at Deloitte and also ex-chair of pro-manchester and Sam Hall, now co-founder of Hall Brown Family Law. “I simply wouldn’t be where I am without them. They have been the two people I have turned to and felt support from throughout my 11 years with pro-manchester. I have been able to be very open and honest with them and have developed massively just by having them on the end of the phone.”

Who else has inspired you?
“Fran Eccles-Bech (chair of the Manchester Law Society) has an excellent network. She’s achieved amazing things with the Law Society and I have always loved her no-nonsense approach and the fact she is completely comfortable with who she is. When I came into this role I wondered what kind of person I had to be now, but people like Fran encourage me to be myself, as that’s how I’ve got here in the first place. She doesn’t know this but, Sandy Lindsay has also been someone I have looked up to. I sit with her on the Forever Manchester board and for what she’s achieved with Tangerine and The Juice Academy, she is incredibly understated. She has achieved so much and is really driving great change in the region with The Juice Academy and pushing the apprenticeship agenda. Phil Jones is a great confidant for me too. I’ve discussed various challenges over the years, which he’s helped me to overcome. Having someone like that, who has taken a household name like Brother to where they are now in the UK is really beneficial and shows just how great the pro-manchester network really is. Other people who have become great friends and role models for me are Al Mackin, Nick Rose and Tim Newns. Each of them has supported me through a lot and I’m delighted I have forged such great friendships with them.”

Sam with the pro-manchester team: L-R: Isabel Riley, Katie Robson, Nicola McCormick, Sam Booth, Ilona Alcock, Katherine Barr and Mel Hill

Sam also attributes her success to the strength of the team she works with at pro-manchester. Made up of eight people running over 150 events each year, a busy team is an understatement. “The team is the backbone of any business. They’re a strong, passionate, dedicated and loyal group of incredible women who I am proud to work alongside each day. My role as their chief executive is to now provide them with the right environment to grow and develop and encourage their new innovative ideas.”

Sam recently promoted her colleague, Nicola McCormick to chief operating officer after nine years of dedication and commitment to pro-manchester. Formally head of events, Nicola will now oversee the organisation’s day-to-day operations, implementing strategies and policies alongside Sam, as well as taking over Sam’s former responsibility of managing pro-manchester’s wider team. “Nicola is a really important member of the team and I believe she will support the strategy I have created to take the organisation to new heights in the coming years. We have naturally fallen into working as a partnership for the last nine years, and I think this will only get stronger going forward. We challenge each other in a good way and I think you need that from the person who is in effect your number two to ensure you’re not falling flat; there’s no one I trust more to be the eyes and ears of the business while I am focusing on the organisation’s strategy.”

What other changes have you got planned for pro-manchester?
“Equality, diversity and inclusivity is a really important topic at present, and having diverse speakers and events that are of interest to a wider audience is massively important to us. One of the first things I did about this was to change the role and agenda of the pro-women committee to the newly formed equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) committee. This committee is made up of advocates of the LGBTQIA+, disabled, religious and BAME communities as well as driving change for women in business, social mobility and ageism among many other issues faced by people in the UK. Moving away from pro-women and diversifying was really important to me, as in 2019 I think it’s become very apparent that the conversation is much larger now and needs more support,” says Sam.

“pro-manchester has always been about bringing the business community together to create powerful partnerships, and I think it’s important for the businesses we’re connected with to be aware of this much wider issue. The women in business agenda was always at the forefront of my mind when I first joined pro-manchester, naturally as I am a female in business, but that is just a small part and the fact we are now addressing this wider issue is something I’m really proud of. We are now committing to trying to bring diversity to each of our events. We’re encouraging businesses taking part in them to put forward people from the communities that the EDI committee is supporting.”

Are you associated with any other organisations or charities?
“As a trustee for Forever Manchester, I’m passionate about local communities and helping people at a grassroots level. Social mobility is still a really big problem in business. In certain organisations we are still judged on where we are from, what education we have achieved and what opportunities we’ve been presented with at a young age. Forever Manchester helps to inspire local people to make a change with small grants and funds that enable them to make a difference in their communities. Sitting on the board is something I find hugely rewarding and from a business perspective it’s also great to know what is of interest to people around our region.

“Another charity whose work I support is City of Trees. Their mission aligns with the work we’re doing on our green economy sector group to support Mayor Andy Burnham in his quest to make Manchester a global leading greener, cleaner, climate-resilient city. It’s really great to see cranes popping up all over the city as it’s a sign of the great growth we’re reaping the benefits of at present, but City of Trees ensure that these developers are focusing on the air we breathe and the environment we live in every day. The big ambition is to plant 3 million trees to represent every man, woman and child living in Greater Manchester.”

“I also sit on Greater Manchester Business Representatives Board, the Manchester Metropolitan Faculty for Business and Law Advisory Board and the business engagement committee with CityCo. Sitting on these boards helps me get a wider view on the goings on around the city and what businesses want from us to help them to develop. Each of them is made up of brilliant people who are key figures in our city and they’ve become great allies for pro-manchester.”

What are you most looking forward to in the next 12 months?
“One of my favourite events of the year is the Annual Dinner in June. It’s a really nice opportunity for our members to come together in a relaxed and less-formal environment. This is the one event where we move away from our structured business events and just have a great time. Our conferences are also events that I always sit back at and am hugely proud of the team. Between them they create jam-packed agendas with leading experts and we get through a lot of excellent insight in a short space of time. Our recent Trailblazing Tech Conference was a great success at The Lowry Hotel and the next one will be our first ever Digital Marketing Conference, which we think there’s a real desire for in Manchester.

“I also can’t wait to implement my strategy and see where the team and I can take pro-manchester in the next few years. Stepping into a role like this after 11 years has been a little daunting to say the least. I’ve realised I now never truly switch off, I care about the team and I care about pro-manchester’s mission to be the go-to organisation for connections, insights, advice and support. We want to promote the north as the place to do business and I can’t wait to take this organisation to new heights in the years to come.”

pro-manchester is the largest business development organisation in the Northwest. They represent the business community across the region and support growth and development to promote the North as the place to do business. For more details call 0161 833 0964 or email admin@pro-manchester.co.uk