Business leaders inspired by cast of top speakers at HullBID Biz Week dinner

Influential leaders from business, education and the third sector came together to tell uplifting stories of their career journeys as HullBID presented one of the highlights of Humber Business Week.

Pictured at the HullBID Inspiring People dinner are (from left) Paul Matson of Hull 4 Heroes, Kathryn Shillito of HullBID, Lewis Harrison of Clegg Gifford, Debra Gray of Hull College and Tim Shaw of KCOM

The Inspiring People Dinner, which was added to the Biz Week calendar in 2015, attracted around 100 business people to The Deep. They heard from three people who are connected by their leadership of organisations which play an integral part in the city centre business community, yet which also have a major influence much further afield.

Paul Matson BEM, CEO and founder of Hull 4 Heroes told how he joined the army as an escape route having “run away from school and from home at 14”. But on leaving the military he experienced hard times again until a lifeline was offered by a chance encounter.

He said: “I fell into drink and drugs and I lived on the streets for a year or more. I didn’t want to do anything but one day someone tapped me on the shoulder, an auntie of mine. She asked me if I wanted some help and I said yes.”

His aunt’s husband, a fellow veteran, helped Paul train as a joiner and from there he got the chance to work with BBC TV’s DIY SOS. The big break came when celebrity host Nick Knowles needed a team to complete an urgent project in Manchester for veterans.

Paul said: “In was an entire street and we travelled over there. I learned I was not the only veteran in the world that had fallen down.”

After returning to Hull, Paul became aware of other veterans in need. He set up Hull 4 Heroes to help, and is now close to breaking ground on the charity’s flagship project – a Veterans Village which is recognised by the government as a potential model for adoption further afield..

He said: “The veterans will live in a village instead of living on their own and they will learn together how to become a civilian.”

Tim Shaw, CEO of KCOM, told of the importance of construction in his career – as an expert with Lego.

He said: “If you have any kids get them into Lego. It will teach them all about building skills, patience and perseverance. Those skills have certainly been useful in my career”.

Tim spoke about a childhood which was largely tech-free and instead spent time enjoying sport and the outdoor life, but his desire to understand how things work led him into industry.

He said: “Understand the journey and how to get there and the rest will look after itself.”

Tim outlined his career progression through a series of household name businesses including Three, Vodafone, T-Mobile and BT on the way to KCOM where he is leading an investment of £100m, providing full fibre across Hull, East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.

He said: “At the heart of all that is our special place in the local community. What we have in Hull and what in part attracted me to the job is the ability to connect with local people and make a real difference to those lives.

“Never forget your customers. Put them at the heart of everything you do and make sure they are the reason you do what you do.”

Debra Gray MBE adopted the theme of “I shouldn’t be here” as she spoke about being written off following a childhood of severe hardship, before embarking on a career which has taken her to the role of Principal and CEO of Hull College with direct responsibility for 12,000 learners, 600 staff and £30m of income.

Debra told how the key was home tuition from her mother: “She taught me to read and write fluently before I even started school.”

When her first job at a photocopying shop in Sheffield didn’t work out it was the support of the owner which encouraged her to progress to greater things: “I had no social or cultural capital but the owner was so kind and tried really hard to help me develop. Now I can see that has paid off.”

She told the audience: “You have no idea how influential and important you are. Some young people don’t know how to learn – I was one of them. Without businesses who gave me a chance I would not be here.

“You have the power to change the lives of people like me. I should not be here but people like you made it possible. Let’s make it possible for the next generation.”

The guests were joined by representatives of overall sponsor award-winning insurance broker Clegg Gifford and subsidiary sponsors the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, the Hull Business and IP Centre at Hull Library, and The Deep.

Kathryn Shillito, HullBID Executive Director, said: “The aims of Humber Business Week are to showcase the wealth of talent, entrepreneurship, vision and future potential of our region and that’s what this event has been doing since 2015.

“We launched it as an antidote to the hectic Biz Week schedule, creating an informal and relaxing get together with great networking and fantastic speakers, and once again it has demonstrated its worth by attracting committed sponsors and a full house.”