A warm welcome to the Maidenhead Chamber of Commerce blog. To kick start our blog, we felt it was only right that we interviewed the President of our Chamber of Commerce Mike Miller. Mike has worked and lived in both South Africa and England and is one of the founders of the South African Chamber of Commerce (SACC) UK and is now an honorary life member of the SACC having retired as a director last year. Mike is Managing Director of Business Fit International Ltd, working with a team of consultants to assist entrepreneurs in successfully launching their businesses into the SA or UK markets. We wanted to find out more about his journey as president and how the Maidenhead Chamber of Commerce has adapted since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Welcome Mike, thank you for joining us, tell us about your upbringing?
I was born in Hillingdon on the outskirts of London. I’m what’s known as a “baby boomer”. My father was a telephone engineer and he moved the family to South Africa on a South African government engineering contract when I was nine. He renewed his contract several times before taking up a permanent position in South Africa. It was seventeen years later before I returned to England on a corporate working trip with Beecham, now GSK. I was educated at New Forest High and then the University of Natal in Durban, now part of UKZN. After I graduated my education continued when I joined Unilever’s marketing department in Durban before joining Beecham five years later.
Tell us about your journey with The South African Shop and how this led to your involvement with the Maidenhead Chamber of Commerce?
I was keen on setting up and owning my own business using the skills that I had learnt in the corporate world to train and help people. In 1997, while working in South Africa, I was approached by retailers in the UK who wanted to import South African consumer goods. They gave me a combined order for a wide range of South African consumer products and on May 30th 1997 we packed our first container at Makro in Woodmead in north Jonannesburg. I then set up South African Products International (Pty) Ltd in South Africa and registered a similar company in England which subsequently became SAJE International Ltd t/a Sapro. We opened The South African Shop in Maidenhead in August 1999 and then successfully expanded online as www.southafricanshop.co.uk. In 2011 we sold the stores to Jumbo Importers who own several other stores around London.
As owner of The South African Shop I was invited to become a member of the Maidenhead & District Chamber of Commerce and join the Chamber Executive Committee. This showed me how effective a local Chamber could be in representing members, providing information on local initiatives, supporting members in disputes with central and local government, providing educational opportunities to members on new technology and boosting employment. I was asked to join the Presidential team by the then President Cllr Andrew Jenner and Took over as President myself in 2010. The Chamber was incorporated a few years later and I became a Director of the Chamber. Upon the resignation of Mark Jones as President in 2019 I took over as President again.