10 Questions: James Robson 

February 1, 2018

James Robson was recently announced as the new chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, replacing Nigel Mills. He founded Exwold Technology in Billingham, where he remains a non-executive director. James also owns and operates consultancy firm Alexander Jewitt & Co, which provides mentoring and hands-on resources to North East SMEs. He is investor and chairman of Micropore Technologies and a member of the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) leadership board

What was your first break in business? 

I secured my first job in 1984 with Cargo Fleet Chemicals, which was a hugely entrepreneurial company. The company identified that selling chemicals into new sectors without the skills of an engineer would be a challenge, which created the opportunity for me to come in as a project manager.

What did you want to be growing up? 

I grew up overseas and from about the age of 11 I spent a lot of time flying transatlantic. My father, who was from Stockton, worked for the British Government as a seismologist and got a job in Trinidad where my brother and I were born. When I was seven, we moved to New York when he took a position at United Nations where he spent the rest of his career. I was schooled in New York until I was 11 and my parents decided we should have an English education and started flying to the UK for term time in England. It was these journeys that sparked a dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot. However, this proved to be one of the only times my father put his foot down to stop me pursuing my ambitions – he saw the job as nothing more than a glorified bus driver!

What attracted you to the role of chairman of the Entreprenueurs’ Forum? 

Becoming chairman is enabling me to develop my passion for helping others in the North East become more aspirational, entrepreneurial and enterprising. I am a huge believer in the benefits of peer-to-peer learning and the forum is the ideal platform for it.

What is the organisation’s mission?

The mission of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum is to provide a dynamic entrepreneurial environment that helps entrepreneurs and business leaders to be inspired, to create connections and to share knowledge that leads to business growth and success.

How do you get the best out of a team? 

Without doubt, communication is the key. It is vital to keep an open dialogue and be honest across every level of employee within a business.

What has been your career highlight? 

To be honest, there have been quite a few so far, but currently I would say being asked to take up senior and non-executive director roles with business and organisations where my experience can be applied to deliver future success. I am also very proud of my work with Richmond School, where I hold the position of chair of governors, which gives me the opportunity to support the school’s role in helping students develop their career aspirations and support their interest in enterprise and careers in sectors such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

What has been your biggest challenge? 

Raising the start-up funding for Exwold. In 1993, I raised £600,000 to build a chemical plant. It was not something that happened very often as it is an industry that is so capital intensive.

Who or what inspires you? 

We are blessed to have so many inspirational people in the North East with drive and ambition that I am spoilt for choice. Quite simply, the North East is an inspiration and an inventive place. Personally, I am inspired to help drive the region forward as I believe the North East’s time is coming to thrive; we just need the people taking the right risks to make it happen.

What are your short and long-term goals as chairman of the forum? 

My short-term goals are to continue to make a difference to the region’s prosperity by inspiring and providing a helping hand to entrepreneurs. For the long term, I want to play my part in helping to make the North East a better place and a region recognised for entrepreneurial spirit, invention and innovation.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

Honestly, when I was working full-time at Exwold, I probably didn’t do too well at achieving a balance. However, now I am better at saying no. My wife, Elizabeth, has recently retired so we’re thinking more about travelling and future planning. As a result, I am more careful about what I choose to do, built around my passions, but being careful not to stretch myself too far so if the companies and organisations I support need me, I can be there for them.

Entrepreneurs’ Forum

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