Rupert Cox talks about his Somerset life

Rupert Cox with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney who came to speak with Somerset business leader

Rupert Cox with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney who came to speak with Somerset business leaders last year - Credit: Archant

As the Royal Bath & West Society prepares for its 50th show in Shepton Mallet, it does so with a new chief executive at the helm. CLARE BOURKE talks to new boss Rupert Cox about farming, business and taking on a new challenge

Rupert Cox has taken over at the helm of the Roayl Bath & West Society

Rupert Cox has taken over at the helm of the Roayl Bath & West Society - Credit: Archant

As chief executive of the Somerset Chamber of Commerce for nine years, Rupert Cox has become a central figure in the county’s business community.

But now he has left that behind and taken on a new challenge combining his business acumen with his farming background - and it’s a challenge he clearly relishes: “I was absolutely delighted to get the opportunity of running a second iconic organisation in Somerset. It seems a natural career progression.

Rupert lives with wife Angie in Long Sutton in a house they built themselves in 1986. They originally ran it as a B&B, stopped when they had a family and then restarted the B&B three years ago once the children – son Geoff and daughter Lydia - left home.

Born in Bridgwater, Rupert’s parents were tenant farmers in the village of Goathurst and then in 1973 moved to Long Sutton and Rupert later took on the family business.

But changes in farming forced Rupert, now 53, to make the tough decision to give it up and look for a new career.

He explains: “During the ‘90s we were sheep farming and it was obvious that red meat prices would remain low.

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“I farmed the family farm until 2000 and at that point I realised that the way farming was changing I had two choices. I would have to invest and take more risks or leave the industry. It was obvious neither of my children wanted to farm which made the decision easier.”

For five years Rupert was regional organiser for the Federation of Small Businesses before joining the chamber. When he took it on the chamber had just 108 members, one member of staff – Rupert – and a negative balance sheet.

“I had to quickly talk to members and partners and tell them that a new era had begun and asked then to invest and help me turn the chamber around,” he explains. “We did this by holding more events, getting more sponsors and doing more project work.

“Then in 2008 when membership was still rising, we started Into Somerset, which helps businesses relocate and thrive in the county, and that brought in additional revenue that we could invest in the business and in our members and we could take on more people.

“Four years ago in 2010 EDF asked us if we could help them develop new supply chains for Hinkley Point and that helped raise our profile further.”

When he left in January the chamber had 550 members, a staff of 11 and a healthy balance sheet, something Rupert is quite rightly proud of.

“I am very proud of what I have achieved. I am very proud of our members and how they contribute to the county. With events like Somerset In Business Conference and Somerset Business Awards, Somerset Chamber of Commerce is at the hub of business influence in Somerset. We are respected by our clients, our members and by politicians.

“We make business connections for them through networking events, communications, be it through Twitter or our magazine, or knowing someone who knows someone who can help someone else. We are all part of that network. We connect businesses together for their own benefits.”

Of course, Rupert was at the sharp end when it came to the devastating floods on the Somerset Levels.

“We were making sure the message for business wasn’t lost,” he explains. “It was shocking for some residents but the message was that it was also shocking for the businesses as well. We made sure funding went to the right businesses at the right time. We were pleased 8km of the river have been dredged, although more could be done, but now the challenge for businesses is to make sure that’s where they want to be in the long term and ensure they have the resilience to cope next time.”

Rupert admits it wasn’t easy leaving the chamber behind.

“I have had to make two very difficult professional decisions in my life. One was to give up farming and the other was to leave the chamber after nearly nine years.”

Rupert took over at the Royal Bath & West Society at the beginning of the year when planning for the annual show was already well advanced and is looking forward to being a central part of such an important event.

“The show welcomes 120,000 people,” he says. “It’s an opportunity once a year to link production of food with consumption of food – to make sure we get that message across. When you go to the supermarket you often take for granted where the food has come from. British food is regarded as some of the safest in the world but here in the UK we take it for granted and the products deserve greater recognition.”

As for making changes to the society, Rupert is keen to increase its charitable activity. “As I begin to get more involved I can see where changes need to be made and where we can spend on our charitable activity.

“The society works to help young people develop, offer flood help and get new generations into agriculture. Businesses who get involved are investing in its charitable activity. I want people to see why the show needs to make a profit - it’s so we can make even more of these investments in our county.”