In the driving seat

Features Posted 22/08/19
Director of South East economic growth partnership shares his enthusiasm for the challenges ahead – tunnel and Brexit included.

Adam Bryan’s job comes with mind-boggling statistics. His area of responsibility is bigger than Croatia, it includes nine universities, eight ports, 170,000 VAT-registered businesses and its brief is “to drive forward the economy of Kent, East Sussex and Essex”, enabling upwards of 78,000 jobs and 29,000 homes. The budget is worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Yet the chief executive of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) clearly relishes the role.

“I love my job,” he tells me enthusiastically. “I genuinely wake up every morning and look forward to what the day will bring.”

I meet Adam in a North Kent hotel coffee shop, after he has zipped across the Dartford Bridge from his office base in Chelmsford, Essex. It’s a journey he completes regularly and he tells me he makes good use of travel time, making calls and listening to the radio.

As I approach his quiet corner of the foyer, Adam rises from his chair, hand extended in greeting. He’s tall, dressed in a regular business suit and he smiles warmly. We sit to chat more about his role as a leader and influencer of business in the South East.

Launching into a quick catch-up on his working life so far, Adam tells me he is 39 and was born near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. After a degree in German at Nottingham University, he took a Masters qualification at the city’s business school, before working for two years for the East of England Development Agency, from 2004-06. His next job was as a policy officer with the economic development team at Essex County Council in Chelmsford.

Adam was lured to the SELEP role in December, 2014, first as deputy to his predecessor David Godfrey, then interim director. Information released at the time of his appointment as director in April, 2016 said that the organisation would be responsible for bringing £84.1 million of government investment into the region by the year of his first year, helping to deliver up to 35,000 jobs and 18,000 new homes. An estimated £100 million of private investment was promised by 2021.

I ask what an average day means to Adam and his team of 13. He smiles and says there is no “average” day, but that he always tries to retain a hands-on approach to the role, checking the message from his office is kept consistent and up to date. “I am aware of the importance of stakeholder management,” he tells me. This means ensuring everyone in the SELEP network is regularly informed about projects and progress. He also checks that the needs of all sides – local and national government and the political interests in between – are fully assessed and accounted for.

“We are the bridge,” he says. “It’s vital we remain inclusive. The message has to be right each time.”

Asked what his management style is, Adam pauses before answering: “I have an amazing team, a talented group of people, some of the best in the country within their field. We look out for each other and get on extremely well. I treat everyone with respect and I expect it in return. Everyone has the chance to speak their mind. They each have the opportunity to deputise for me at any stage of a project and I back them to the hilt over any decision.”

Unusually, as I note by looking online before the interview, the team is predominantly made up of women. Adam beams when I mention this, saying there has been no conscious bias, but that the best person was selected for the job each time. In his experience, the gender mix is not atypical of economic growth teams.

Team-building exercises include evenings out and regular, informal meetings to discuss issues exactly as they arise. Staff are encouraged to pursue flexible working and all can work from home.

Before I leave, I feel compelled to ask about two burning issues which will affect not only the South East, but further afield – the Lower Thames Crossing and, of course, Brexit.

Adam says there is huge support for the tunnel between North Kent and South Essex and “we are still talking about completion in 2027”. The project has its opposition, notably Thurrock Council. He also recognised the importance of ensuring that business, community and political interests in Gravesham were met positively. Adam says the link will create a new economy, with huge opportunities for work and education, across Kent and Essex in particular.

Adam is more circumspect about Brexit, saying LEPs generally will play an important role in helping to see it through. In the meantime, the government “has much to do and needs to think hard about how it will engage LEPs to best effect”.

He adds: “The impact of Brexit will be felt very keenly in this part of the world and we all need to work together and present a united force.”

At the end of the interview, Adam tells me he’s off home to catch up with emails and spend time with his three children, aged nine, seven and two. His face lights up as he describes the fun he has with them, adding that his other hobby, watching Nottingham Forest FC brings more angst than enjoyment these days.

Pictured: Adam Bryan (fifth from right) and his team

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