Having worked in his family business since he was a child, Toby Bridges has learned a great deal about running a business. He talks to us about his business journey and his reasons for working with the North Tyneside Business Forum Management Group
What’s your role in the NTBF management team?
My role within the management team is an advisory one. I’m there to support businesses in whatever stage they’re going through. I’ve worked with a number of the other board members and believe giving back to other businesses in the region is incredibly important.
Andrew Esson, who is also part of the management team, was a mentor of mine a few years back. He became involved in the manufacturing forum and asked me to come on board to help. That was in the days before all the separate forums were brought together under the umbrella of the North Tyneside Business Forum. When that happened and I was offered the opportunity to sit on the management team, I jumped at the chance.
At The NBT Group, our business ethos revolves around developing a vibrant business community and helping businesses of any size to grow and prosper in North Tyneside. I live in North Tyneside, NBT is based here too, so it’s important to me that I can be a part of the business community and help out where I can.
Tell us a little more about your background
I’ve worked in my family business (The NBT Group) all my life. From the time I was old enough to lift boxes I worked in the warehouse, as soon as I learned to drive I was employed behind the wheel. When I went away to University to study marketing, my year out was spent inside the family business and I returned, after graduating in 1993, to become a marketing assistant.
I rose up the ranks and became Managing Director in 2008. I then became Chief Executive and am now the Chair of the company.
Outside of the family business, I have two teenage boys and my love of theatre has taken me on a journey through theatre management, setting up a theatre company and I’m now Chair of The Exchange Theatre in North Shields.
I’m a great believer in mentors in the business world – both receiving their guidance and providing guidance to others. It’s through one of those roles’ growth that saw me becoming a non-executive board member of
Unwritten, a marketing agency based in Newcastle a few months ago.
Does your role on the team create connections for you in business and indeed in your life outside the Forum?
My first suggestion to anyone running a business, whether a sole trader or a business with 1000+ employees, is to get out and network. Talk to other businesses, find a mentor, volunteer as a mentor, meet as many other business people as you can.
For me, that’s one of the most important things one can do as a business owner – networking has been the backbone of my family business and being part of the Business Forum has helped me massively in that regard.
It doesn’t matter whether you get any business out of your networking – it’s all about the connections you make, the opportunities you might uncover and the learning you can gain as a result of that.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a non-exec board member of a creative agency, I also act as a mentor to several business leaders in the area. I’m on the LEP Growth Board, the North East Scale-Up and High Growth Advisory Boards, a part of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum and sit on the NatWest Accelerator panel. They’re all different ways of making connections in business and each one is as valuable as the next.
How do you see the Forum developing in the future?
I’d love to see the Forum put on more great events like the ones they’ve run in recent months. Particularly the business safaris, the events provide businesses in the local area with the opportunity to visit other businesses, meet their people and see how they run. It’s all about making connections and the Forum events really help people to do that.
I think the Forum’s role lies in communicating with the business community – Amy’s doing a brilliant job of that and I hope that continues to prosper, to create a vibrant business network which is accessible to organisations of any size.
The Business Forum provides a really important connector between the business community and the local authority. For me, it’s crucial to be a part of that so I can keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the region. It’ll be increasingly important as we move towards the Combined Authority too. Sometimes I think smaller businesses feel they don’t have a voice in the business community, but the North Tyneside Business Forum provides that voice.
As long as business people can meet up, share challenges and talk about opportunities, there’s always going to be an important role for the Business Forum in facilitating that.