Humber Business Week Chair Kath Lavery to step down after 14 years at helm

Humber Business Week Chair Kath Lavery is to step down following this June’s event after 14 years at the helm – and 19 years helping to stage the region’s annual ‘Festival of Business’.

Mrs Lavery says she has taken the decision to step back due to increasing work demands as Chair of Rotherham, Doncaster & South Humber Foundation Trust, and to allow the event to ‘take a new direction’ in future years.

She has been involved in every Humber Business Week since its inception in 2004, when she was appointed to a steering group in her role as Hull City Council cabinet member for Business and the Economy.

The week was the brainchild of founder Paul Sewell, who had previously helped bring the Yorkshire International Business Convention (YIBC) – an event which attracted world-leading figures as speakers – to Hull for one day in 2003.

He built on that success and steered the week through growth each year until 2009, when Mrs Lavery took the reins as chair.

Humber Business Week has been staged in the first week of June every year since, only missing from the annual calendar in 2020, when the country was under tight social distancing rules due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It returned in 2021 with an event largely held online, before last year saw a return to a packed week of face-to-face events.

‘Biz Week’, as it has become known, now regularly attracts between 40 and 50 events throughout the week, the vast majority staged without any funding support.

Although the final Friday has always been anchored by a major paid-for event centred around big-name speakers – firstly via the YIBC and latterly The Business Day event in Bridlington – the week is largely led by SMES keen to celebrate their success, share knowledge, and benefit from a week of free networking and business opportunities.

And it is the support for SMEs offered by Business Week which Mrs Lavery is most proud of.

“When I’m asked what is special about Humber Business Week I always say it’s how it all comes together and happens. By that I mean that it only happens because there are so many people who want to make it happen, and work so hard to ensure it does,” she said.

“I’ve led it as chair for 14 years, but over those years we’ve had so many people from the local business community give up their time as part of a steering group to pull the week together, supported of course by the businesses themselves which plan and stage events throughout the week.

“Other cities and regions have tried to follow the model and it hasn’t worked like it has here. I’ve been asked how we do it, and I’ve always said is because the businesses and people here want it, and they make it work.

“When I took over from Paul in 2009, I wondered if it had perhaps peaked and whether I’d be able to continue its momentum, but it has just become stronger and stronger.

“That is because there has always been a great team of volunteers on the steering group around me, and people like Paul offering advice and help. Paul established something special and I am proud to have built on what he started.”

Week benefits from continued support of key organisations

Mrs Lavery says the idea of stepping back had first crossed her mind as long as four years ago, when she had reached the milestone of a decade as chair. However, she felt the need to ensure the event remained a key part of the local business calendar after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I didn’t want to walk away when Business Week faced its biggest ever period of uncertainty,” she said.

“I wanted to ensure we kept the steering group together, who have been so important, and that we were back on the calendar as soon as possible. We had the year in 2021 where we were mainly online, and then last year we were back to normal and that was fantastic.

“Thankfully we’ve benefitted from the continued support of organisations like The University of Hull, the Local Enterprise Partnership in its various guises over the years, Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, Marketing Humber and Business Hive, and businesses such as Rollits, Sewell Group, Streets Accountants and Arrival Design who are part of the week every year.

“People like Paul Sewell, who are really influential in our business community, have continued to support us passionately, and in recent years Paul has worked hard to attract speakers such as Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Alastair Campbell Steph McGovern to his own events as part of the free events in the week.

“We’re shaping up for another great year this year, so I feel I can step back and just come and enjoy the events in future years, without all the worry as to whether it will prove a success.”

Standout memories

Looking back over her 19 years involved with Humber Business Week, Mrs Lavery picks out highlights of hearing influential civil rights campaigner Reverend Jesse Jackson in 2007, and in 2013 FW de Klerk, who lifted the ban on the African National Congress in one of his first acts after assuming leadership of the National Party, releasing Nelson Mandela, before going on to serve as his deputy president.

“Those two speakers certainly standout in my memory, but whilst Humber Business Week was born out of an event which was all about big name speakers, I am proud that it has become an event which really is focussed on the SMEs across the region, which are the heartbeat of a local economy,” she said.

“Alongside the memories of hearing from world-leading figures, I treasure the memories of the buzz of the week, the hectic nature of going from event to event, and making some really good, lifelong friends.”

Looking forward, Humber Business Week 2023 will be officially launched at the Lexington Rooftop Bar & Terrace in the Doubletree by Hilton, Hull on Thursday, April 20, and Mrs Lavery admits she will have mixed feelings as she heads towards stepping down.

“Of course it will be a bit strange for me this year, knowing it’s my last year as chair. Business Week has been a huge part of my life, and it is always a thrill to see it come together, and experience that buzz throughout the week,” she said.

“Many people have attended and taken part in Business Week each year since I became chair, so I hope to see them involved again this year, and maybe some who have not taken part in recent years also.

“Most importantly I want to see new businesses and new people involved, the next generation. We saw a lot of new faces at our most recent stakeholder meeting and that made me feel confident that now is the right time for change, and that the time is right for a new direction.

“Business Week always evolves each year naturally to reflect the issues affecting business. That is the beauty of it, we’ve never tried to force it down a theme or topic. That fact that businesses choose the events and topics ensures it remains relevant.

“We’ve seen topics around cyber security, social media and health and wellbeing become prominent in recent years, and they are topics which would not have been anywhere near the agenda when we started. It moves with the times.

“It’s never been about one business or person, it is a collective achievement, and that’s where the secret to its success lies.”

The Humber Business Week 2023 programme will be officially launched on Thursday April 20, at the Lexington Rooftop Bar & Terrace in the Doubletree by Hilton, Hull. Book your place at the event.

Confirmed events for the week, from Monday June 5 to Friday June 9, will be listed on the Humber Business Week website and available to book.