Co-op CEO attracts full house for Humber Business Week event

One of the highlight events of Humber Business Week has already confirmed a full house after tickets were snapped up weeks in advance.

The Elevenses chat between Biz Week founder Paul Sewell and Debbie Robinson – a giant of retail and an all-round high achiever with a low profile – will be streamed on the Humber Business Week website on Tuesday 6 June.

However the live session at Sewell Studio on Tuesday 30 May is at capacity with spaces now only available in the event of cancellations.

Paul said: “It says everything about the calibre of this guest that every seat was booked weeks ahead.

“As Central England CEO and European Vice President of the Co-op, Debbie has to  be in Dubrovnik for their conference and that clashes with Biz Week But she’ll come to us the previous week and I’m looking forward to having a natter with someone who demonstrates that you can have it all – a good marriage, great family, mother and grandmother, athlete and successful businesswoman. Many women have to choose at some point in their life between career, home, fitness but Debbie has achieved on all fronts.”

Debbie comes from Burnley and is a passionate retailer with over 40 years’ experience in the retail sector. Prior to taking on the role at Central England Co-operative in April 2019, Debbie was the UK Managing Director at SPAR. Earlier in her career she has also worked at the Co-op, Marks and Spencer and W H Smith and she is also a board member of the British Retail Consortium, Vice-President of Euro Co-ops, and a member of the advisory panel at Diversity in Retail.

Paul brought the Yorkshire International Business Convention (YIBC) to Hull and founded Humber Business Week in 2005. As chair of Sewell Group he works across sectors including construction, property, investments, filling stations and convenience stores. He met Debbie earlier this year during a retail industry visit to Japan and South Korea.

He said: “I found her to be a fabulous role model with a wonderful story to tell. She stepped into a role leading a modern, forward-looking organisation employing over 8,000 people and working in food, funeral services, and property investment, with over 400 trading outlets across 16 counties.

“Debbie has driven change through her belief in co-operative ethics and values and her advocacy of all aspects of inclusion. She has championed sustainability and Fairtrade, implemented improvements in diet and health including food pack nutritional information, and developed higher standards of animal welfare in the food industry.

“Debbie was heavily involved in campaigning which led to better protection for retail workers. She also instigated the launch of a Co-operative International Development Fund to help move global communities out of poverty.

“It will be fascinating to talk about how you do these things in an organisation which dates back to the days of Charles Dickens, and how you also find the time to complete 20 consecutive London Marathons!”

Elevenses was launched at the 2021 edition of Humber Business Week as a series of informal chats with key figures from business, politics, culture and sport. Guests have included political heavyweights Alan Johnson, Alastair Campbell and Baroness Warsi, broadcaster Steph McGovern and playwright John Godber.

Paul said: “I don’t go out looking for guests. I bump into people as I do my day job and if I think they’re right I ask them to come to Hull. We’ve had a lot of fun, illuminating chats over the years. Debbie Robinson has a much lower profile than you would expect. She also has some strong views on all sorts of issues.”

The stream will be posted at 11am on Tuesday 6 June. To register, visit