Naval Veteran Helping Firms in Choppy Economic Waters; Alistair Houghton Meets BOB WILLIAMS, Chief Executive of Chester, Ellesmere Port and North Wales Chamber of Commerce IN ASSOCIATION WITH Rensburg Sheppards the Profile
Byline: Alistair Houghton
THE worlds of naval warfare and Cheshire business may seem very different, but former Royal Navy commodore Bob Williams says there are more similarities than you might think.
Williams is today chief executive of the Chester, Ellesmere Port and North Wales Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses from Anglesey to the Mancunian frontier.
But, before joining the front line of the local business world he enjoyed a 37-year career in the Royal Navy, serving in the Falklands War and commanding a ship during the first Gulf War.
Williams, who was also director-general of Liverpool's International Cotton Association, is now helping local businesses weather the recession and is aiming to double the chamber's membership.
He left the military in 1998 and says he swiftly learned that, jargon aside, planning skills are just as important in business as at sea.
"In business, the first thing I'd ask you to show me would be the business plan," he said. "What are your objectives? Do you have a timescale? How will you monitor progress? In military terms, do you need reinforcements?
"When I first started, I had to get rid of the military jargon that was part of my language and embrace business terminology, otherwise people would wonder what I was trying to say.
"But the principles are exactly the same."
Williams's arrival in Chester last year was a return to his Cheshire roots. He grew up in Knutsford before joining the Navy after his A-levels.
Williams's naval career has taken him around the globe many times. After serving aboard HMS Glasgow in the Falklands War and staying in the South Atlantic aboard HMS Birmingham, the first ship he commanded as captain was the guided missile destroyer HMS Edinburgh - itself a brand new ship straight from Cammell Laird, in Birkenhead.
"It was very exciting," he said.
"It's like a new car. You open the door and it smells differently."
Williams commanded a ship as part of the naval taskforce in the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops were expelled from Kuwait. He was one of the first to land in the emirate once the Iraqis had left.
"All the oilfields there were burning," he said.
"There were cigarettes just finished burning in the ashtrays.
The place was deserted."
Returning from the Gulf, Williams became naval private secretary to the Chief of Defence Staff, travelling the world promoting British interests.
His final military role was as UK director of operations at the joint armed forces headquarters in Northwood. Operations under his watch included the UK response to the volcanic eruption on Montserrat, co-ordinating the RAF and naval rescue missions to the stricken Caribbean island.
Williams's international experience made him invaluable to the International Cotton Association, where he spent seven years from 1998 travelling abroad on behalf of the industry.
"Uzbekistan was the first country I'd ever visited in my life without a coastline," he smiled.
Williams left the association in 2005 and returned to his home in Scotland to work with a business association in Dumfries and Galloway.
But, in 2008, he heard about the Chester vacancy and seized the opportunity to return to his roots.
Williams runs the Chamber's day-to-day operations on behalf of its board, currently chaired by John Newton-Jones.
The chamber, along with those in Liverpool and St Helens, is a member of the British Chambers of Commerce network and works closely with that organisation's London policy team. …