Norfolk Chamber of Commerce is over 120 years old, and is as relevant today as ever. Chris Sargisson, the newly appointed CEO explains his view of Chamber 100 days after his appointment, and outlines his vision for the next 5 years.

Listen to Chri’s podcast here Norfolk Chamber of Commerce


Neil Foley:                           Hello everybody, it’s Neil Foley from the Business Growth Club here. I’m really delighted this afternoon to have a really special guest with us, Chris Sargisson, CEO of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce.

Chris Sargisson:                 Hello.

Neil Foley:                           How are you there, Chris?

Chris Sargisson:                 My afternoon’s a lot better now I’ve found out your delighted and I’m a special guest.

Neil Foley:                           Doesn’t say much for our other guests, does it? Should we just stop now! Well, what we’re hoping to do over the next half an hour or so, is to explore a little bit about what the Chamber of Commerce actually is for people who don’t know it, It’s relevance today, if you like, cause I know it’s quite an old organisation.

Chris Sargisson:                 Yeah.

Neil Foley:                           You’re recently appointed, aren’t you, Chris? Literally a few weeks ago?

Chris Sargisson:                 Yeah. Actually, I’ve just tripped over my hundredth day.

Neil Foley:                           Have you? So three months.

Chris Sargisson:                 And I introduced myself to a group a couple of days ago as the newly appointed CEO and I was put right, they said I can’t say that anymore cause I’ve had 100 days, so I’m just the CEO.

Neil Foley:                           Just the CEO.

Chris Sargisson:                 It’s all in the past now.

Neil Foley:                           Part of the furniture.

Chris Sargisson:                 Absolutely.

Neil Foley:                           Well, let’s kick off in terms of, cause I know the Norfolk Chamber celebrated it’s 120th year.

Chris Sargisson:                 120 years, yes. 1896 it was formed. I’ve got a very large wooden board in my boardroom with all of the names of the past presidents going back to 1896.

Neil Foley:                           Oh, I’ve seen that.

Chris Sargisson:                 Yeah, some very interesting names on there, actually. The Coleman’s and the Gurneys.

Neil Foley:                           I was going say, it was the great and the good, really.

Chris Sargisson:                 There’s a slight bit of pressure about it as well, because they’ve obviously spent some money on it a few years ago, on the basis that it would carry on for another 120 years, so the right hand side is blank. So if I don’t do well…

Neil Foley:                           I think it’s just prudent. Prudent.

Chris Sargisson:                 So, we’re anticipating at least another 120 years.

Neil Foley:                           So how did … I understand a little bit about the Chamber, but not a great deal, was it just a local businesses saying we ought to get together and, was that really it?

Chris Sargisson:                 Yeah, I think so. I think the Chambers are an interesting organisation because they’re all independent of each other. There’s 52 of them across the country. And they all act independently, although they all share the chamber of commerce branding. Anybody can set up a Chamber of Commerce if they wish. And I think historically, they were a means of businesses being able to trade between each other. So, there’s sort of a classic inward investment type of process and share best practise and ideas.

In the days before the kind of levels of connectivity that we have, even before telephones, it was a means of people being able to get together on a regular basis and understand on the one hand, what was going on politically, but also what was going on in markets, and trade accordingly. There is a British Chamber of Commerce, which you can choose to be affiliated to, which we are affiliated to, and that has direct links into government and enables us to do certain things on behalf of government, like, issue certificates for international trade and also we are able to talk to the local MP’s all the way through to local government in understanding everything that affects businesses within the political landscape as well.

Neil Foley:                           Okay.

Chris Sargisson:                 So essentially, the chamber splits its membership between two distinct groups: the majority of which would be your classic B2B business, and our role in our relationship with those members is on the one hand to help those businesses promote themselves, both within their region and within our network. And on the other hand, the businesses themselves and the challenges they have in being a business. Everything from sign posting to skills to policy to investment to training, to development, enabling for them to grow within their own structure, but also within the wider community.

The other type of business that we represent would be the providers of information, all the local authorities, through to the LEPs and the education sectors as well. So we act as a voice for them so business can interact and also those organisations can engage through us to understand what they should be doing in the political landscape around things like infrastructure, and so on and so forth.

Neil Foley:                           I see. It’s quite a broad church, more than you think.

Chris Sargisson:                 And in terms of relevancy, I would say that the chamber’s role in business world has never been more relevant. Particularly with issues around the corner, around Brexit, but also, we just the needs for growth and skills and the fast moving pace of business with technology. We’re one of the few organisations, probably not the only organisation that has this very wide funnel above it where lots and lots of very valuable and relevant, useful information is poured in.

What we need to do is find the creative and clever ways to articulate it so businesses can engage and interact and survive and grow.

Neil Foley:                           And, I suppose that brings us on to one of my first points I’ve thought of in terms of, what’s your impression been of the Chamber having joined 100 days ago. What’s your overall impression of it?

Chris Sargisson:                 Incredibly relevant and very, very keen to do the right thing. What’s interesting, I think, is I had a number of conversations with the board before I took the post, because their concerns were centred around the classic, it isn’t what you do it’s the way that you do it, sort of analogy. So it’s not … and the board, my board is made up of business people. So they engage with the chamber in some cases for a year, and in other cases for 20 years. And they can see how important it is and their feeling is that we are not able to cut through and talk to more organisations, and be helpful to more organisations.

So, I’ve inherited a business which has with it 120 years of very, very good, deep understanding of the business world and an incredible amount of links and connections within organisations to be supportive. But I’m the first CEO to be appointed into the Chamber of Commerce across the UK from outside the environment, for about 17 years. So, most of the CEO’s have been recruited from within.

Neil Foley:                           From employees who’ve been …

Chris Sargisson:                 Right, sort of progressed through to the CEO role. And what they advertised for in this post was an entrepreneurial CEO, which is really what my background is. So, most of the conversations I had with them were, what’s your definition of entrepreneurial? How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go? It’s not the case of being entrepreneurial and changing the fabrics and putting stuff and different pictures on the walls. It’s very much around how do you take a traditional organisation and disrupt it, which is really what my background has been. Not changing what it does, but actually changing the way that it does it.

So, when I got the feeling, and the vibe that they were keen, not just in Norfolk but across the chamber network as well, to think of creative ways that they can engage with more businesses and being more relevant than, it was an attractive role.

Neil Foley:                           Yeah. And so you’re actually, although you said there were 52 chambers, do you all talk and meet and share ideas?

Chris Sargisson:                 We do. There is a CEO round table event that happens every quarter. I have regular meetings and conversations with some of my direct equivalents on the borders and Suffolk Chamber, Cambridge Chamber, Northamptonshire, Essex. I’m bombing off to London on Tuesday, I’m sorry, on Thursday for a Roundtable discussion where I’m actually going to pitch to them what my vision for the digital world should look like. So I’m either going to come back with my tail between my legs.

Neil Foley:                           I was going say, if you’re the first one for 17 years …

Chris Sargisson:                 Who is this young lad, who’s not young by the way, I’m 50 with grey hair, but it’s moving them out of a space, which is around what they know and into a world that they don’t know. But it’s coming. It’s not sort of crazy, let’s all go to Mars in our space car kind of world. It’s …

Neil Foley:                           They’ve got the knowledge from what you’re saying. You’re talking about how they communicate and interact with members, rather than go and learn a new set of facts or whatever.

Chris Sargisson:                 If the role was around product, or the role was around relevancy and significantly changing what it does, or even if the role was political, I’m not a particularly political. Particularly political? That doesn’t sound right…

Neil Foley:                           I know what you mean.

Chris Sargisson:                 Luckily, I’ve got a good team of people here who are. That’s not the challenge. The challenge is around the communication of it and the involvement of it and why it’s important and how you can influence it and how you can be part of it, kind of thing.

Neil Foley:                           I can imagine, because from a political standpoint, I know you’d obviously have a decent relationship with the local MP’s.

Chris Sargisson:                 We do so. True.

Neil Foley:                           And I’ve met a few of them. But the reality is, unless they’re in government or in cabinet, actually they don’t have a lot of influence, do they?

Chris Sargisson:                 Well, we’ve got to be, quite rightly, interacting with those in power and those in opposition. The critical role for us is probably more centred around organisations like the LEP, who are charged with solving particular problems within regions around, in our region it’s predominately around infrastructures and skills. And it’s actually acting as that communication and in that link. And within those LEP environments, you will have a board made up of people in political life, as well as business life.

But politicians, it’s my understanding, how often and how loud you shout and how relevant what you’re shouting is. We did very well shouting during the A11, and we campaign very hard around infrastructures, currently for the A47 all the way through to getting new trains and upgrading the train connectivity.

The big shout at the moment is actually trying to get more support promoting Norfolk as being an area where you can invest and develop skills in. So there was a lot of activity in London this year, with Norfolk and Suffolk, to start really standing on a platform to broadcast Norfolk with a strong message of it being a place to do business. And I’m really passionate about that. That’s one thing, I must admit, that I feel quite strongly about. And I don’t think we do it very well. I think we … Our approach to talking about Norfolk is always slightly based on an apology. And we don’t need to …

Neil Foley:                           But you’re not a Norfolk man, now you’ve lived here quite a long time?

Chris Sargisson:                 I married a Norfolk girl. So, I’m a Scouser by trade. But I don’t have the accent, because the slightest tinge of it, my father heard meant I was off to school.

Neil Foley:                           It was removed. Good old Dad.

Chris Sargisson:                 Except when the beers come out, and then it starts to creep back in.

Neil Foley:                           So, why Norfolk? Because I’m not a Norfolk man, but I’ve been here most of my life. Why are we so poor at doing it? Is it because we used to be a provincial city, a backwater,  I don’t know.

Chris Sargisson:                 I think our behaviour is a bit endemic. It’s become part of our DNA. We feel that, that’s what we have to do. But actually, the reasons why you might be apologising for Norfolk actually don’t exist anymore. No one’s actually changed the message. So, I’m changing the message.

Neil Foley:                           Yeah, good for you.

Chris Sargisson:                 It’s about success. If you come to Norfolk to work, or set up a business, you will succeed. End of. How you define success is very much down to you. Whether it be quality of life, or money or access to the coast. Whatever it is, it’s a great place to live and work, end of.

But, I think we’ve never actually stood up and gone, “Hang on a minute, actually, that’s true. That is how it is.” What we’ve tended to say is, “It is a great place to work. But the trains are a bit rubbish. Or the roads are a bit hard. Or you have to come to Norfolk for a reason. It’s not a place you go through to get to …” It doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. And I think the more we can talk about success and actually broadcast success and be genuine about it, because it is genuine, the message starts to go away, the apology starts to drift away.

We are changing a behaviour pattern, which is deeply rooted. It’ll take a long time to do, but we’ve got to start this, so let’s start now. Let’s start talking about success.

Neil Foley:                           Yeah, it’s a great message, isn’t it? Cause certainly Norwich has a lot going for it, in terms of the UEA. When I came here in the late 60’s, I think UEA had just been formed or whatever. But actually, it’s a world class university for literature and environmental science.

Chris Sargisson:                 It is. It’s got one of the highest percentage of population of students who leave and remain in Norwich. And Norwich is one of the fastest growing cities. You’ve also got the incredible success and rise of NUA from an art college, 15 years ago to one of it’s leading university of arts. You’ve got an area, which is becoming regarded as quite bohemian, and the new Notting Hill, and so on and so on. And we need to … But we’re not the Norwich chamber of Commerce. We’re the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce.

Neil Foley:                           Is there a danger you’ve become quite Norwich Centric?

Chris Sargisson:                 Yeah, no I think we have become the Norwich Chamber of Commerce. And I look at the challenges that we have from West Norfolk to East Norfolk, which have the opportunity to be just as successful. We’ve got to get back there and do that. We did have offices in those locations, and we followed the model, I think, that other companies had done where you retract to a larger office and you control from one place. Actually, I don’t think that works for us. My feeling is if we spend a lot less time in this building and much more time out there on the street, we need to get offices and space in those areas. North Norfolk, West Norfolk, South Norfolk and be relevant and be supportive and broadcast a message of success and help.

Neil Foley:                           Especially if you could be a conduit, as you were saying to the two different distinct sides of the chamber.

Chris Sargisson:                 Yes.

Neil Foley:                           And that’s what you need, don’t you.

Chris Sargisson:                 Absolutely.

Neil Foley:                           So, why would somebody join chamber? I know I did a couple of years ago, but why would somebody, a newish business, a small business like mine, why would they join chamber?

Chris Sargisson:                 The big value in a chamber membership is the fact that you are in a well known, well formed, well supported organisation. We employ people. And those people’s roles are to understand who you are, understand what you are trying to achieve. And support you with it. Whether it be the promotion of what you do to people who don’t know what you do. There’s little value in us promoting you to people who already know you. And also understanding what particular stage of development you are, what particular sector you’re in, and how we can support you as your business grows and moves and develops and moves on, in a way that’s genuine, rather than disingenuous.

It’s not about trying to sell things to people, you’ve already paid your membership. So, it’s constantly asking the question in the right way, which is are you all right? How can I help you? Are you all right?

Neil Foley:                           And who would ask the question? Would I as a newish member have to engage or would somebody ring me, or say should we meet or?

Chris Sargisson:                 We are, this is one of the big changes that’s happening at the moment with in the culture. I think one of the things that I’ve observed, my feeling is, we’re very keen to make sure we are supportive of our members, but we haven’t necessarily got the right behaviours in house to do it.

Neil Foley:                           Okay.

Chris Sargisson:                 So, we are having a bit of a cultural shift, shall we say. So the big buzz words for me, and it’s always been in the businesses that I’ve developed, is about customer centricity, it’s about really understanding all of the things that you do that you are genuinely exhibiting the signs of being customer centric.

Neil Foley:                           So, you could be more seen and be more proactive than reactive.

Chris Sargisson:                 The danger is that when organisations form, and they become familiar, and that familiarity turns into, effectively, administration. You administer something. And everything has a process and a form and a person in charge of it. I like a bit more chaos.

Neil Foley:                           Hence the entrepreneurial bit.

Chris Sargisson:                 Hence the entrepreneurial bit. It’s very difficult to categorised customers by a piece of paper. I want the environment to be much more open and much more transparent. I want to be able to demonstrate not that we are fulfilling the brief in terms of doing something that you expected to happen as a process, but actually delivering something that means that when you’ve engaged with those experience being enriching, that you’ve got value from it. And that’s harder to manage.

So we would take a simple event, measures perhaps be more around, did the right number of people turn up and what was the quality of sausage at breakfast, and those sorts of things. They’re all important, but actually what I want to know is, are you okay? Did you meet the people you wanted to meet? Did you find out what you wanted to find out? Did you engage? And start to rebuild a business around lifting those out of those interactions and be transparent about saying, this is how well we’re doing.

So when you meet the Chamber, the experiences that you’re having with us are there to support you and enrich you and so, work with you or signpost you to the places that means that some of the things that you will no doubt encounter in business, you’ve got genuine support on rather than somebody selling you something or positioning something in front of you that you don’t actually need. Particularly with networking, all I did was sit next to someone that tried to sell me a photocopier, and everybody needs a photocopier at various points, but if all you’re getting is that interaction, then we’re not relevant and we’re not adding value.

And the heart of that is to understand the customer. Whether we’ve got a thousand customers or ten thousand customers, we have to have that in our DNA, that customer centricity. And then we always build out from that. So, it’s re-establishing the culture and the values within an organisation that means that we can genuinely …

Neil Foley:                           Because it’s quite threatening to some staff, in terms of it’s not what they’re used to.

Chris Sargisson:                 Moving somebody away from an administrative space into a more customer friendly space can be challenging if it’s not the role that they had. But I’m looking to build out. I think we’ve got … A good example, I’ve just done recently a photo shoot without staff, with the people here. And so what I’m trying to do … So, I can’t see the customer in this building at all. I can’t see images of them, I can’t see pictures of them. I can’t relate to them because they don’t exist, and what I want to do is start using a much more richer imagery of ours and pick who we support. So, we’re doing some tests at the moment, standing our staff in a white back lit box, and getting them to pose so we can build montages.

Neil Foley:                           Oh, I get it.

Chris Sargisson:                 And then we’ll do the same with customers so we can use those montages to express what we do to different people in different ways. And I was thinking that they might find it a little bit intimidating, or a bit shy, but they were bouncing all over the place.

Neil Foley:                           They’ve got hidden talents.

Chris Sargisson:                 There’s an extrovert there coming to the surface.

Neil Foley:                           Well, it’ll be more rewarding, won’t it, if you’re customer facing and can  interact and getting decent feedback and the rest of it to make a difference. Actually, that has to be infinitely more rewarding than an admin role.

Chris Sargisson:                 Yeah. And to be given an environment and a culture where that’s expected and where you, without wishing to be cliché, to sort of go the extra mile sort of mentality. And we can do that. Whereas as a membership environment that employs people to look after customers, which is what we do, and we’re one of the few that do, there are membership organisations out there, but they don’t have payroll. That’s exactly the kind of environment that we should be, should be working in. There’s a level above it at the moment, which is forming, which is to start to become a bit more specialised around sectors, particularly the digital sector. Which is something that is very important.

So, you’ve got a general level of engagement, then you might have people who are much more sector specific that can work with the broader group. But overall, that multi skilled, can do, how can I help, genuine culture is something that’s really, really important to get in place day one. Because everything we do over the next three to four years will build out from that profile.

Neil Foley:                           Make a big difference. You mentioned networking. Do you regard Chamber as a networking organisation?

Chris Sargisson:                 It’s definitely part of our role to make sure we signpost the right organisations and creative environments where businesses can get together and meet, it’s what the business was formed on 120 years ago.

But I think our networking has different levels of engagement depending on what the particular need is. So, every opportunity to bring businesses together is a network opportunity, but there will almost certainly be a theme. So, we’re looking at doing a lot more around those themes, and a lot more around the different types of engagement, and the different times, breakfast, lunch and dinners, more conversations, more content rich, let me learn something, let me tell you something that you don’t know that’s useful to you. Rather than let me tell you about me and my business and why you should employ me.

So, all the way down to there is a need to do some really kind of hardcore speed networking. If you’ve got the right people in the room and they know that’s why they’re there, that’s fine. But when you try and do a bit of everything, and people feel a bit uncomfortable, or don’t feel that they’re in the right environment, then it can become a bit problematic. And we are very, very supportive of all the other network environments that are there because they are vital.

My feeling is that if you’ve got a particular group that you know and you work with, you should actually be a member of it and go to it, but you should also remember the Chamber of Commerce because sitting on top of that is a much, much wider brief and much wider understanding of the business world.

Neil Foley:                           Yeah, I’ve certainly had some fabulous breakfasts meetings through chamber.

Chris Sargisson:                 Oh, good. Do tell me if I ruin it, won’t you.

Neil Foley:                           Well, the last one you forgot the instructions, if I remember correctly.

Chris Sargisson:                 Oh, no somebody walked off with them.

Neil Foley:                           No, but the breakfast was good because you’re sitting next to people you wouldn’t normally sit next to.  I’ve met some really interesting people.

Chris Sargisson:                 And that’s good, and I think we need to capture that and encourage it. There’s ways that we can, we’re looking at our entire digital space at the moment about how we can interact with people before, during and after an event through technology. But also I think, one of the big pulls that we can provide is making sure that a number of people that are in that room, are new.

Neil Foley:                           Yeah.

Chris Sargisson:                 If all we do is create an environment where you meet the same people and have the same conversations, then, you’re not necessarily getting the value out of it. But we need to structure and manage it and put it so it performs in the right way. But constantly keeping those groups fresh and alive, no matter they be Norwich or West Norfolk or Kings Lynn, or Great Yarmouth is something, which we should be an expectation from us and that’s something that I’m very keen to get right.

Neil Foley:                           Yeah, that’d be amazing if you can get that, cause I can see they’re already very valuable. So if we can make it more so with more engagement before and after.

Chris Sargisson:                 It’s all about relevancy. And I think one of the things that we are, because we’re a non profit membership organisation, we’re quite keen to make sure that we demonstrate value for money, quite rightly. But sometimes that model can hold you back a bit. And I think actually being a bit more open and a bit more come along and see how you think and engage with us don’t worry about it. See if we’re relevant. If we are relevant to you and we are projecting the right message of being supportive, then you can join knowing that you’re going to get for every pound you put in the fruit machine, you get three pounds out. That we will pay out in what we do. That has to be our approach to it.

Neil Foley:                           And I remember you saying in a previous conversation, Chris, you’ve got in your mind that you’ve got a tenure here that you want to make a difference. What do you think the chamber will look like then in five years time? If your dreams come true, and do all the hard work and the teams’ work behind you.

Chris Sargisson:                 The big different between now and the next five years, that we at least double if not quadruple the membership numbers.

Neil Foley:                           Beause a thousand for Norfolk is relatively small.

Chris Sargisson:                 It’s relatively small. Now that can only really be achieved by manoeuvring ourselves into a more digital space that we haven’t invested in, and any kind of IT or platform in the way that other businesses have that means that we can be 24/7. If we can start to create these proper profiles of our customers, and enable them to be interactive online and people to start engaging with each other in a digital space, then it changes our pricing models, slightly, but it also means for the better I should say.

It also means that we start to have more of a digital footprint and we can do more interesting things in a way that people are becoming more familiar with. I’m not talking about flushing out the old and replacing it with the new, or of forcing our services into an online space and that’s the only place that exists. It’s a technology is always going to an enabler for us to do more. And that more needs to translate into more people actually getting a benefit and for being able to be interacting with us.

And it’s got to be a membership based up on relevancy and what’s important to you, that you are by interacting and engaging and joining, you’re getting more out of it. So, it’s not about talking to the people that we know about things that we understand, it’s about talking to the people that we don’t know about things we understand. So, the next five years, and I said to the board that I’d do a five year stint, I think it’s important to actually start with the end in mind. And to put energy into changing the culture so we can be much more engaging for all the right reasons and energy into getting the right level of platform in place that doesn’t put a massive hole into the bank account by any stretch of the imagination, but actually lifts the customer experience as well.

In five years time you’ll see a membership, which has grown considerably and is actually having a digital engagement with us as well as a more traditional one, which we’ll always continue as well.

Neil Foley:                           And that has a lot of benefits for members doesn’t it, because if suddenly we’ve got 2,000 or 3,000 members, as you’re saying from a B2B view point, it makes a big difference, doesn’t it, in terms of …

Chris Sargisson:                 As a not for profit, and if I can start … If we grow at a rate that actually increases our costs at the same rate then we don’t achieve very much. If we can grow at a rate that means that we can do more using technology, and I can keep the costs down, then I can reduce the membership costs, which is always good. We can get ourselves into position where membership is based more upon what you do because you need to do it rather than paying for something and then perhaps getting the benefit from it all or not as the year goes by. So it changes out that model as well, which is becoming more and more challenging as life goes on unless we start to provide a pay as you go type environment.

Neil Foley:                           So, it’s exciting time.

Chris Sargisson:                 Yeah.

Neil Foley:                           Not much to do then.

Chris Sargisson:                 No. Course not.

Neil Foley:                           And final question, Chris, in terms of if you were a young man again, sort of 18, something of that, knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself?

Chris Sargisson:                 Not to worry.

Neil Foley:                           Would you?

Chris Sargisson:                 Yeah. I overthink, I’m very, very keen about making sure that what we do is always the right thing, and it sometimes you can take yourself … you miss the positives and you latch on to the negative and it takes you down a bit of a dark alley sometimes. And I’ve done that too many times. Now I’m very, very fortunate to have the most incredibly strong, lovely wife who just tuts at me and just says don’t be so stupid.

Oh, my god, I’ve done this and it’s going to be terrible and the place is going to catch fire. None of those worst case prophecies  have ever really come true and I think you tend to worry a bit too much about the singularity that might be a negative rather than the broader picture.

I try and point my moral compass in the right direction, so everything that we do is always genuinely for the right reasons. And that reason in this environment is always exclusively to benefit of the people who are paying my wages. This is not my business. This is the Chamber of Commerce. This is your business actually. So, it’s to make sure that I can do these things and focus on that mantra and stop worrying so much.

I’ve spent too much time in my 20’s and 30’s creating positions of worrying them about and waking up at 3:00 on a Sunday morning, “Oh, my god!” And thinking of some terrible scenario that never will actually happen.

What about you, what would be said to your 18 year old self?

Neil Foley:                           I think it would very similar. I think grasp the opportunities. I think because there are some that come past, and you think, should I do that? And actually I would have a go. I think. Nobody’s ever asked me that. Nobody’s turned that the other way around, Chris. I think it would largely be grasp the opportunities. And probably enjoy life. Yeah, cause mental health is a big issue nowadays, in terms it’s being talked about. It’s always been a big issue, but hidden.

Chris Sargisson:                 It is, it had been hidden. I remember when I was working to reshape Norwich Union Direct. So we were first in there as the disrupters for a very traditional insurance business, Norwich Union. And we had a team that was growing exponentially of people aged between 18 to 25, and I remember getting a phone call from the occupational health department, which in the days of Norwich Union, would only administer milk of magnesia.

Neil Foley:                           I can imagine.

Chris Sargisson:                 Something for gout. And they sort of had this queue of quite a few people outside their door who were struggling with life. It was nothing that could be administered with by nursing. And it was a very sobering thing that there were a number of people who were, and the mental wellness was really, really important element of a business because you put stresses on people and it pops up and people need to do something about it. So, we’ve always created programmes to try and identify where people … well, first of all make sure we don’t put people in an environment where they feel stress that it affects their health. But often people come with issues that you need to be supportive of, because most of our lives it’s been in our heads.

Neil Foley:                           Yeah, no. That’s incredibly true. There was a very good podcast, with a plug for another podcast for a guy called Gary Burton who’s really interesting fellow. He’s using these, I think he calls them principles for life, which is about exactly that, actually everything that happens in the world is actually in your head. And how you react to something is entirely your choice. So, regardless of whether there’s disaster outside, or somebody’s rude to you or the world is unfair, how you react is entirely in your control. It’s easier said than done, but it’s a very interesting podcast if you get a chance.

Chris Sargisson:                 Yeah, I will listen to that. Something that actually, I had a meeting last week with a couple of, three or four fairly big CEO’s of fairly big businesses that we were talking about the very subject of how do we get the mental wellness back in the business. One of the organisations locally that’s doing, ironically, considering my Norwich Union Direct days, in 1994 it was, one of the organisations that’s just making incredible steps into resolving it is Aviva.

Neil Foley:                           Really.

Chris Sargisson:                 They’re doing some …

Neil Foley:          I saw they did some, I’ve forgotten what they did just recently, was it a paternity leave, or?

Chris Sargisson:                 Yeah, 12 months paternity leave.

Neil Foley:                           I think it is. It’s something that is really astonishing really.

Chris Sargisson:                 But they’ve got a whole environment, that big building in Thorpe, and a whole team absolutely looking at the pillars of staff satisfaction and retention. And they recognise it from a lost productivity point of view, as well as a retention point of view as well as morally doing the right thing. It’s really, really important.

Neil Foley:                           Nice for an insurance company and big business to behave like that.

Chris Sargisson:                 It is. Absolutely. And really, I think the more we can do to understand, because they’ve invested a lot of energy, time and money into understanding and they seem really, really quite open about sharing it with us

Neil Foley:                           Yeah, good for them.

Chris Sargisson:                 And that’s one of the things I think we can do here, is to try and signpost to that.

Neil Foley:                           Yeah, no, that’s great. How do people get in touch with you then, Chris? If people needed to, they obviously could get in touch with the chamber, is it Norfolk Chamber, I was trying to remember the name of the website. Is it …

Chris Sargisson:                 Norfolk chamber of commerce is the website. The website is a bit old.

Neil Foley:                           Yes.

Chris Sargisson:                 And really needs to have a bit of a sort out. But you can email us, I’m Anything like that would be absolutely fine. You can ring us or please come and see me. It’d be lovely to see customers coming through the door.

Neil Foley:                           Okay.

Chris Sargisson:                 Anything that anybody’s got, any questions. We’ve got meeting rooms, boardrooms, I have actually upped the level of coffee from something industrial in a tin to some fresh stuff in a machine, so we can have decent coffee as well.

Neil Foley:                           So, we’re open for business. It’s the message, isn’t it?

Chris Sargisson:                 Anything about promoting what you do, or helping doing what you do better, that’s the kind of conversation we want to be having. And if we can help and be relevant with it, then we’d love to chat about it.

Neil Foley:                           Well, that’s brilliant. And thank you very much indeed for your time, Chris. We will have a transcript of this podcast, which we’ll put on the website, so have a look at the Norfolk Chamber, get in touch with Chris, I’ve known Chris for a little while and you won’t get a better man.

If you want to see more on the series of the podcast, then go to, and until next time, goodbye.

Chris Sargisson:                 Bye.