Andrew Cooper admits he has missed the vibe of city centre life. Now he is heading for a major role in Leeds. Ismail Mulla reports.
The city of Leeds is abuzz with excitement. Big name retail offerings, complemented by small independents. Office accommodation of all shapes and sizes. The vibrant cultural offering that illuminates the city all day, throughout the year.
Earlier this year the business community of Leeds voted in favour of adopting the Business Improvement District (BID) model.
The BID will work to improve investment in Leeds and marketing of the area, as well as giving levy paying businesses a voice.
The man chosen to head up the Leeds BID is Andrew Cooper, who will take charge as CEO in October.
Mr Cooper is a BID veteran having previously worked as the chief executive of the Bath BID.
Effusing an air of calmness, Mr Cooper allows himself to wax lyrical about the city which he will be helping improve.
“I guess what we are seeing in Leeds is a very exciting time in terms of development with the Trinity, with the Hammerson development, John Lewis. We’re seeing new hotels being built and office blocks coming up in the city, it feels very much like the city is buzzing,” he said.
Prior to becoming a city centre manager of Bath, and town centre manager of Stratford-upon-Avon, he enjoyed a career at Boots the chemist. Starting off in logistics before getting involved in their corporate social responsibility team.
Mr Cooper said: “That was when I got involved in town and city centre management because Boots would make contributions to BIDs, that would make contributions to town centre partnerships. I saw the opportunity to go from the corporate side and become a practitioner.
“I guess I didn’t set out to be in the career that I am in now but it’s a sort of evolution.”
He says that h e is quite looking forward to swapping the rural settings of Somerset for the more hustle and bustle environs of Leeds.
“Having lived in Somerset which is quite rural I quite like coming back to a city centre with a vibe and where there’s more things happening. I missed the city centre life, there’s just so much happening in Leeds,” said Mr Cooper.
The new chief executive is well versed in the history of BID and how they operate.
Mr Cooper said: “There’s 210 of them in the UK. There’s 68 BIDs in New York. There’s BIDs in Germany, in Austria and Sweden. It’s a model that’s used across the world. I guess local regulations dictate how that works and how it sets up. In the United Kingdom, BIDs started in 2003 under the Blair government, there was 22 pilot cities across the UK and Kingston-upon-Thames was the first BID in the United Kingdom and that has grown.”
Although Leeds is quite late when it comes to having a BID, it’s not a bad thing says Mr Cooper.
He said: “It’s certainly, I feel, the right time that Leeds has a BID. The very fact that it hasn’t had in the past probably isn’t a bad thing because it’s coming to the table a little bit later and they can benefit with what some of the others have done well or what they’ve done wrong in terms of addressing the issues of the business community.”
High on Mr Cooper’s agenda as the boss of the third biggest BID in the UK is quick action to show levy payers the BID’s worth.
Mr Cooper said that the early wins are “really important for people to see that the BID is therefore everyone who has voted for it”.
He added: “It’s not about empire building. It is about having the structure to be nimble to deliver against the objectives in the business plan.”
But while the BID is there for the levy payers, Mr Cooper thinks that it can be of benefit for the whole business community.
Connectivity is seen as a key area of improvement by Mr Cooper and he wants to see seamless wi-fi access being supported by the Leeds BID.
He said: “I think retailers are getting a lot smarter in terms of using the internet to enhance your experience and to drive you into the shop.
“It’s all about the experience and the sort of multichannel way you do business. But in order to assist that process we need good connectivity.
“If people are visiting the city we want them tweeting and telling a story that Leeds is a great place.”
Mr Cooper likens the BID to a workplace cafeteria. He said: “I remember a managing director, of a pharmaceutical company, who was asked who the most important person was in his organisation and his response was the chef.
“It seemed to be a strange reply. He said, well the chef’s really important because if the chef can prepare really good lunch-time menus it gets the people in the laboratories coming out to eat and talking to each other.
“Then they start to talk to each other about the research that they’re doing and that enhance the company. I think in the same way the BID has the role of bringing people out together.”
While trading Somerset for Leeds may be different, Mr Cooper has already found common ground and that is his love for cycling.
“I was involved with a charity called Cry in the Dark, which built orphanages for children in Romania after Ceaușescu was deposed, I was chairman of that charity. I cycled across Romania several times to raise money,” he said.
Cycling may also act as the inspiration in his role as BID boss. Mr Cooper says that he is hoping the BID plays a part in bringing more prestigious events like the Grand Depart to Leeds.
Mr Cooper said: “The grand depart was fantastic and there seems to be a legacy. That has set the bar because you then think what other things can we bring to the city.”
Andrew Cooper factfile
First job: At the Presto Supermarket stacking shelves and working on the shop floor (Presto was taken over by Safeway and then by Morrisons)
Favourite holiday: Cycling across Romania
Favourite song: Tricky one - there are so many! The guitar playing of the Indigo Girls is a favourite
Favourite film: Way out West (1937)
Favourite book: Where Eagles Dare – Alistair MacLean
What are you most proud of: Apart from my family, restoring a 1964 Wolseley Hornet MkII and being asked to display it at the NEC Classic Motor Show.