Interview with Joan Smith – Solihull Chamber of Commerce

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Meeting up with Joan Smith is certainly an enjoyable experience. Her warm smile, Irish charm and that strong Dublin accent, added to her vast business skills, can help explain why Joan is now one of the leading lights in the business community in the Midlands.

Joan is Commercial Director of Solihull Chamber of Commerce, which is part of the Great Birmingham Chambers of Commerce Group.

Joan, plus her support staff are based in Solihull College ,where the college Principal, John Callaghan also has Irish roots.

So where did it all begin for Joan?

Chatting over a steaming hot cup of tea, Joan tells me that she was born in Whitehall, Dublin, one of a family of five. She came to Birmingham in 1984 and was adamant that her career would always be involved with business support.

Joan said, “My passion for helping, supporting and signposting businesses to opportunities and training began back in 2002. I was a business adviser/skills broker for Business Link and alongside a team of employed and self employed advisers, have helped thousands of West Midlands businesses with their requirements.

“Since the demise of Business Link and our regional Development Agency (AMW) I have transferred all my passion, skills and knowledge into my role as Director of Solihull Chamber.

“The Midlands Chambers group here, in addition to Solihull, includes Birmingham, Cannock Chase, Lichfield and Tamworth, Burton and District, Sutton Coldfield plus the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce, British American Business Council and Future faces.”

Joan explains that part of her role can be seen under the title words of Connect, Support and Growth- CONNECT-Members directory, exhibitions, networking events and awards dinners, personal introductions and publicity in the monthly Chamberlink magazine.

SUPPORT- Discounted services for members which includes translations, documents for exporting and importing, training through our Skills Hub, Web design, Legal and HR helpline, and Policies.

GROWTH- Sponsorship and advertising through our Growth Hub by completing a business diagnostic to understand business needs and requirements, UK Trade and Investment, European Network and International Trade Support.

Joan said, “As the Director of Solihull Chamber, I work very closely with Solihull College and Solihull Council. We have the same common goal, so it makes sense to work together. Being based in Solihull College is a great opportunity for both us and the college.

“John Callaghan, Principal of the college, is also President of Solihull Chamber of Commerce. He is second generation Irish, which is probably why we get on and work so well together.

“We are doing a lot of work with the college students and our members. We have set up a hot desk hub at the college for the students to gain experience in all areas with local businesses. It is a win win for all.”

Joan pointed out that although the Solihull Chamber has links with large local businesses such as Jaguar Land Rover, the NEC and Birmingham International Airport, she and her team are just as keen to support small businesses-even if it`s only a one person operation.

Joan also added that any Irish business in the area-large or small can avail of the huge amount of support offered by the Chamber.

Despite leading such a busy working life, weekends for Joan are sacrosanct. She loves to spend time with her family and enjoys the Great Outdoors -walking and climbing mountains such as Helvelyn in the Lake District. Every couple of months, Joan travels back to Dublin where members of her family live, including her father who is now in his mid eighties.

Of the many overseas countries Joan has visited, she lists Greece as her favourite-she says that the warm sunshine is matched by the equally warm hospitality of the Greek people.

But the most relaxing pastime for Joan is knitting and crocheting, a hobby she first took up in Ireland at the age of 11.

No shortage of woolly jumpers then, when Joan scales yet another mountain!

To contact Joan you can ring her on 0121 678 7488 or email j.smith@solihull-chamber.com.