As the Chief Executive Officer of the Devon & Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, Stuart Elford is one of the most well-known and respected members of the local business community and having held directorships at a number of high-profile local businesses and organisations, you would be forgiven for thinking he had spent all of his working life in the business sector.
In fact, it took almost 18 years before the former police officer began pursuing his ambition of owning his own business and decided to study for a BTEC part-time at City College. Stuart said: “I left Devonport High School halfway through my A Levels and then joined the police force. I didn’t have any formal post-16 qualifications, but for a long time I had wanted to run my own business – the problem was I didn’t really know what type of business I wanted to run! I decided to study for a BTEC in Business, Finance and Administration and I was keen to learn as much as I could.
“Being able to study at the College in the evenings meant I could continue in my job which, like for most adults, is fairly crucial when you have bills to pay. I really enjoyed being at the College. It was a completely different environment to school: we were all there for the same reasons and we became a close-knit group.”
After finishing his course, Stuart went on to set up his own PR and marketing company, which quickly grew in size and stature as it developed into a full communications agency. After selling the business, Stuart continued to work as a consultant for a variety of clients, before taking up the position of Director of Operations and Development at GA Solicitors (formerly known as Gill Akaster Solicitors). He has also served as Chairman of St Luke’s Hospice, a role Stuart described as an honour to hold.
Stuart said he puts much of this success down to the quality of the education he received at the College, saying how much he appreciated the opportunity to learn from those who had “been there and done it”.
“It was the start of an exciting journey for me, one that has led to where I am now,” he said. “I was fortunate in that I could take time off to attend lectures, but the flexibility of the courses at the College means you can make it work if it’s something you really want to do.”
As Chief Executive of Devon & Plymouth Chamber, Stuart said his main aim is to help as many businesses as possible, as that in turn helps people and their prospects. “I’m still relatively new at the Chamber, but I hope to be here for some time. I am not sure I would be in this position if it weren’t for studying at the College. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made, and if you are thinking of doing something similar, I can only say go for it: you won’t regret it.”