THERE’S an awful lot of business done on the golf course, they say.
But that’s not the reason Andrew Choi now finds himself coming to grips with the game.
"I am a big sports fan," says the man at the helm of the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce. "In the past, I was a typical lad playing football and tennis.
"Now I’m flirting with golf. The chamber golf day will be held next year and my target is to reduce my handicap.
"I have the necessary hand-eye co-ordination, but I have very little patience with being awful. I want to get good at the game more quickly than I have the right to expect. I see Tiger Woods playing and wonder why I can’t be just as good."
And he adds with honesty: "I decided to take up golf because I could no longer hack it playing football!"
Andrew is certainly "hacking it" at the Lockwood-based chamber, which he joined in April. 2007, after notching up an impressive track record in the sphere of business support.
Andrew worked in the accountancy department of Leeds City Council before joining the former Bradford Training and Enterprise Council and rising to a senior role in business support. He then spent five or six years at Business Link as a senior manager before moving to the chamber.
He says: "I have spent the past 15 years in business support in the region, working directly with companies or leading teams that work with companies. The chamber movement was always one that was familiar to me and I was very grateful to get the chance to join the Mid Yorkshire Chamber."
His arrival was followed last year by the chamber’s relocation from Aspley to Lockwood Park. Formerly housed in a "metal box" at St Andrew’s Road, the chamber is now headquartered in the lovingly restored stable block at Brewery Drive. "We moved from the ugliest building in Huddersfield to one of the nicest," says Andrew.
The Mid Yorkshire Chamber – formed by the merger of the Kirklees and Wakefield Chamber of Commerce and the Halifax chamber – has gained a deserved reputation for lobbying central and local government on behalf of its 1,000 member firms, producing good quality state-of-trade surveys and helping companies do business overseas.
Although it grew prodigiously during the 1980s and 1990s – running a raft of publicly-funded training schemes – the chamber had to retrench when those funding streams ended.
Today, it employs 50 staff at Lockwood and sites in Halifax and Wakefield and has refocused on its core aims of supporting member firms, acting as a powerful advocate on business issues and helping companies trade with each other.
"The move to Lockwood makes a statement about our desire to be more contemporary and relevant," says Andrew. "The chamber has an image of being ‘male, pale and stale’ but we want to show the chamber is innovative and ambitious.
"Although chamber membership is about 1,000 we have ambitious targets to increase those numbers.
"We are fortunate in that the Mid Yorkshire chamber membership is not dominated by one grouping, such as the professional services in Leeds.
"Our membership represents a cross-section of business, mainly at the smaller end of SME sector and mainly comprising firms with fewer than 250 employees.
"That means out economic surveys are very representative of UK small business generally. We are rarely out of step with the British Chambers of Commerce surveys."
It also means the chamber can speak with authority on the issues affecting most companies in the region – including perennial hot topics such as the burden of red tape and concern about lack of investment in the road and rail network.
Andrew is committed to the cause. He’s the first to arrive at the office – which means he often mans the reception desk before getting down to his more familiar routine of paperwork and meetings. But he has no problems with that.
"It is a uniquely rewarding job to serve the interests of business in this region," he says.
And he adds: "Enterprise is in my DNA.
"My parents ran one of the last Chinese laundries in the north of England in Leeds. I was born into the Chinese community and my first paid job was as a seven-year-old putting handkerchiefs and pillow cases through a heated roller. The Health and Safety Executive would have had a field day with that!
"As a slightly older child I helped with the accounts – and we didn’t have Sage software, we had a Chinese abacus.
"My work ethic, my affinity with small business and my ideals about customer service all stem from there. I owe my late parents a real debt of gratitude."