Posted on 1st October 2020 at 09:00
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.
What’s been your proudest moment as President of the Maidenhead Chamber of Commerce?
Re-forming a Chamber Executive that focuses on RISE, Representing, Informing, Supporting and Educating the Chamber members by using the expertise available to us and our close relationship with the RBWM Leadership, working in partnership to achieve common goals. We now have a tight knit cooperative team. We have been very instrumental in helping RBWM businesses to find their way through the Covid 19 minefield. Working closely with RBWM and FSB.
What inspires you as President of the Maidenhead Chamber of Commerce?
Helping businesses in RBWM to develop and grow to the benefit of the local community and other members.
How would you like to work with local businesses in the future?
To continue what we are already doing but build the membership to enable members to focus on and offer their expertise when dealing with both other members as well as non-members. We have recently launched our “Trust Your Chamber Members” campaign which is to encourage both Chamber members and non-members to find the goods and services they need via the Members’ Directory on the Chamber website.
What’s your favourite thing about Maidenhead?
I have lived in Maidenhead and surrounding areas since the early seventies, working in South Africa in the interim. I returned from South Africa in late 1997 and set up The South African Shop in Brock Lane because Maidenhead provided easy links to Reading and London via the M4 motorway, the M40 and Wycombe via the A404, and the fast, regular train service to London as well as Reading and the west of England. In addition an easy link to Heathrow Airport and surrounding towns led to customers coming to the store from all over England as well as Europe. We realised that we had chosen the Maidenhead location well. Other companies both large and small have been able to take advantage of these benefits too. The closeness to the Thames and the new Waterway has been a major drawcard for the town.
Since Covid-19, how do you see the Maidenhead Chamber of Commerce adapting in the future?
We will be continuing with the benefits of the RISE model for our members and local businesses in general. We will be assisting businesses to recognise their strengths and giving them the support and strength to believe in themselves when rethinking their business strategy with the help of the Chamber experts.
Finally, how has the Chamber supported members and businesses over the last few months?
We have helped businesses to make contact with RBWM to get their grants and other business support during the lockdown and beyond. I have had frequent video calls with RBWM trying to work through the Business Grant minefield, and have met and communicated with Theresa May MP and her team. Our new Members Directory initiative, “Trust Your Chamber Member” will help the Chamber to become the business conduit that it needs to be.