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After three years leading the Chamber’s governance structure, a former soldier turned successful businessman, Bankie Williams shares his thoughts on the last few years under his stewardship and what next for him and the Chamber.

A Leader’s Journey

“It’s been a fascinating three years and an interesting journey,” Bankie told Prosper, “and one I am immensely proud of and have relished.” Reflecting on his Chamber journey, the former children’s home boy, SAS trainer, MD of Homeserve and senior leadership coach said “I began working with the Black Country Chamber’s Platinum Group in 2017, and was both encouraged and bowled over by this network of regional leaders working together to overcome the challenges they face within their own business, whilst being an integral part of the fellowship which is at the heart of everything the Chamber does. “Here was a collective of like-minded, intelligent and passionate individuals who want the best for the business, their employees and contribute to the economic prosperity of the region they are proud to call home, and I was humbled and honoured to be part of their discussions as they shared both their frustrations and vulnerabilities which re-inforced the need for a safe place leaders could go to. What they have in common is an understanding and an awareness of the power and value of a peer network. “Everybody’s path to leadership is different and respecting and understanding how they became a leader is vital to sometimes appreciating the type of leader they are and the values which drive them,” Bankie adds. For those who have met and know Bankie, there is a sense of urgency to his approach and a genuine desire to always strive for continuous improvement, which speaks of his own unique past and background in shaping his leadership qualities. “My earliest memories are of living in a children’s home in Surrey,” said Bankie, “they were hard but also very happy times and are obviously the starting point of my own journey. Then, one day, when I was around 7 -8 years of age a man turned up telling me that he was my father and whisked me back to London, where I was born, and introduced me to two brothers and a sister who apparently were in the same children’s home but none of us was aware of each other.” As people slowly come of age and begin to map out their future, some have a clear vision for what that future might hold and how to get there, whilst for others, they can be at the whim of the decisions made by other people. ​ Whilst Bankie comes across as a man of driven focus and determination, his future was in part set out by his father whom he said, “nine short years after my return to London and the family fold told me that I would be the joining the Army so, in 1974 I joined the Junior Army as an Apprentice Chef.” “Growing up on an inner-city council estate with a single parent meant that I had not only had a very disciplined childhood, but I had to attune my thinking to start forging the life I wanted for myself. Both that discipline and desire to make a success in my endeavours drove my early military life,” just two short years later, Bankie left the Army School of Catering as both a City & Guilds qualified chef and a Junior Regimental Sergeant Major.

A Military Career of Resilience and Drive

An early posting to Germany had already sown the seeds for a radical career change within the military, as Bankie not only grew in confidence but actively sought out new opportunities.

“I love sport and, for me, making sure that your body is as fighting fit as it can be has always been just as important as developing the mental skills and attributes to power success,” he told Prosper.

One day given an ultimatum by the Master Chef of ‘sport’ or ‘cook’, Bankie jumped at the chance to retrain and after a two-year process successfully transferred to the Army Physical Training Corps.

In December 1979, the newly qualified Physical Instructor was anticipating a first posting to be with an Austrian Army Unit in the Mountains of Cyprus as a way to develop his already considerable skiing skills, when tragic circumstance (the shooting dead of a Physical Training Instructor by the IRA) meant that instead of heading for the snow and sunshine of the Eastern Mediterranean, Bankie found himself posted to Londonderry for a two-year tour, attached to the 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment followed by a two-year tour in Gibraltar that coincided with the Falklands war.

“The responsibilities I had as a young PTI during these postings helped me to develop my abilities as an instructor and also started to pique my interest in the idea of leadership and developing people in situations often fraught with political, cultural and social challenges. Particularly, the Gibraltar posting where the Garrison gym I ran, was made available to local children with special educational and life skills challenges and where I was able to get involved”

By 1983, Bankie had been posted to Catterick, a training depot for the 11 Signals Regiment before securing a posting to join 1st Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers which included a tour of duty to the Falkland Islands. The Royal Welch were the last infantry unit to make the hazardous journey by ship, navigating the storm waters of the South Atlantic. Shortly after they returned to the UK, an out of the blue transfer order arrived which simply read ‘Williams is to go to Hereford.’

“I often speculate whether my association with General Sir Peter de la Corps de la Billiere, who was the Commanding Officer of British Forces Falkland Island at the same time as my tour, had anything to do with this transfer,” Bankie explains.

“Before joining ‘Troops Hereford’, I had to complete and pass ‘All Arms P-Company’, a gruelling test of physical and mental strength, resilience and character. Despite being the oldest on the course I passed P-Company and later that year stepped inside Stirling Lines, the world-famous home of 22 SAS Regiment where he joined Training Wing.”

As a physical training instructor, tours of duty and attachments to units are typically for three years. It was a reflection of his skills and abilities that saw Bankie promoted to QMSI (Warrant Officer) and to have his attachment to 22 SAS extended for a second tour.

By the early 1990s, in a successful military career which had seen him serve across the world and help train the worlds’ most elite military unit, Bankie took the most momentous decision of his life to leave the military and use his skills in civilian life.

Civvy Street and the Commercial World

Life in the commercial world did not always go as planned and Bankie left his first organisation after two years. “The military has honour, trust, loyalty and service as guiding principles at its core but Bankie found that the Leadership development consultancy he joined rarely practiced what it preached, and this did not sit well with his values or belief systems.”

Later joining Walsall-based South Staffordshire Water Plc as a UK Project Manager, Bankie supported overseas projects and quickly progressed through the organisation to become Operations Director of a subsidiary company whilst he studied and completed his MBA. This was further augmented by a second Master’s degree in Personal and Organisational Development.

“The business morphed into HomeServe,” said Bankie, “and I was appointed to the position of MD and I had the unique experience of working alongside Richard Harpin, the incredibly driven and dynamic CEO. I learned and accomplished a great deal in these roles which gave me the opportunity to developed myself personally. After six years I left the ‘South Staff Group’ to become the Group MD of a Black Country based FM group of companies in urgent need of business turnaround.

“I have always striven for the next challenge, and I think it is important for a leader to achieve what they set out to achieve and, when the time is right for themselves and the business to move on. Having delivered the turnaround, I now sought other opportunities.”

Following a number of interim leadership roles in several different sectors in the UK and abroad, Bankie began to consider ways he could combine his own journey of military training; commercial experience, and attendance, over the years, on management and business development programmes at Harvard Business School, Stanford Research International and the International Graduate School of Management run by Harvard and IESE with his passion for developing other leaders.

From around 2003 he began to take part in a number of coaching programmes and now holds an ILM7 Advanced Certificate for Executive Coaching and more recently becoming a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management.

In 2009 he joined Vistage International a global coaching organisation for SME business owners and leaders, through which he began to provide senior executive coaching which led to his drive to support his Black Country business roots, his work with the Chamber’s peer-to-peer Platinum Group and later appointment as Chair in 2018.

Chairing the Chamber

“This region is home to an amazing collection of businesses, leaders and forward thinkers. The Chamber sits at the heart of this, and the challenge was how to continue to demonstrate relevance and value to progressive leaders looking to the future by suggesting that they tie their fortunes to a business support organisation whose legacy stretches back over three centuries,” begins Bankie when reflecting on his time as Chair.

“There is power in this legacy though, and the Chamber has continued to change with the times and my own time with this amazing organisation, partner to so many businesses, has been to steer its governance systems to ensure they are robust, responsive and deliver for our members.”

“Concentrating on the future strategy and where the Chamber was heading became my passion during my time as Chair,” Bankie said, “Looking ahead, whilst supporting CEO, Corin Crane, who I have an excellent working relationship with, has helped the Board focus and plan for the years to come.

“In recent years, Corin and his team have achieved outstanding and remarkable results, despite the challenges that Brexit has bought and now Covid-19. The Black Country Chamber has an excellent reputation and is held in very high regard, this has been evident during my meetings with fellow Chairs and Presidents from across the Chamber network.

“During my three years as Chair I’ve also witnessed some amazing outputs, the increasing engagement with businesses, stakeholders and politicians across the whole region, the collaborative working projects with fellow Chambers of Commerce, the launch of the Black Country All Party Parliamentary Group, the relaunch of the Chamber’s Prosper Magazine, and the excellent peer to peer working practices of the Platinum Group, alongside the rapid period of restructuring and modernisation my tenure has seen to name just a few,” Bankie adds.

“I’m stepping down at the same time as the Director General of the British Chamber of Commerce, Dr Adam Marshall. He has achieved so much and done a brilliant job to lead the network through turbulent times for both business and the economy, I wish his successor, Shevaun Haviland, well and say to her - be bold and courageous in the role and take a strong stand on the issues that concern the business communities the length and breadth of this country.

And What Does the Future Hold?

Whilst he is stepping down as Chair following the completion of his term, coaching and development remains a passion for Bankie.

“I recently started a Doctorate in Coaching and Mentoring and have launched Verdo Partners.

“Nurturing young talent to become the best leaders they can be is still important to me and my Doctoral thesis asks the question ‘Can You Coach Intuition?

“Leaders who have great instincts are often those who stand head and shoulders above the rest and can successfully navigate an uncertain and unpredictable future and I am confident the executive team and the board of the BCCC has the right balance of skill, experiences, diversity and intellect to make the Chamber even stronger.

“And as far as the Black Country is concerned, I will certainly miss the passion, commitment and drive of the Board, a Board that I left in a far more diverse position than when I arrived, an achievement I am very proud of. There is still some work to do but I know going forward the Board will represent every part of the diverse membership the Black Country Chamber represents.”

In what is now known to be his typical “Care-frontational” style Bankie signed off with a question: “How are the leaders and owners of Black Country SME’s going to turn this current crisis into a real opportunity to thrive and grow?”