Three words send a shiver down the spine of many business people or members of organisations. They are … Annual General Meeting. Grown men and women have been known to concoct the most complex excuses for why they can’t attend a necessary but often unexciting part of running a company.
That won’t apply of course to Bath Chamber of Commerce and I expect members will be flocking to the 115th AGM.
On the face of it business has changed out of all recognition since the early days of the 20th century when our first members gathered together. But it says a lot about the enduring qualities of Chambers of Commerce that they continue to survive and for an organisation to operate for more than a hundred years is no mean feat.
Mind you, our efforts pale into insignificance compared to the world’s first Chamber, created by the merchants of Marseilles in France in 1599. The met in a room, a chambre, hence chamber, to talk about shared concerns in their businesses and the world of commerce which they inhabited.
We still do just the same thing, and the truth is that the issues haven’t changed all that much over 400 years. I would be prepared to bet that development, taxation and relations with local and national government would have been high on the agenda in Marseilles as they still are today in Bath. The Chamber was a vehicle, then and still is now, which ensures that the voice of business was heard in the corridors of power.
Something else that hasn’t changed since the 16th century is that human beings like to deal with one another face to face. Most business people I know much prefer to deal directly with another person, and if it can be arranged, with someone that they already know. Obviously that’s not always possible, but getting to know people on a personal level is still important.
You could easily imagine the people in the chambre in Marseilles chatting over a glass of claret – these days it will be more likely speed networking with a mineral water, but the end result is the same. Members of the Chamber get to know one another beyond just what their business does and that relationship will often be the foundation for a mutually beneficial professional linkage.
So I think members of all Chambers of Commerce can congratulate themselves on being part of a movement which is as relevant today as ever it was, and if that means turning out for the occasional AGM, it’s a small price to pay.