60 Second Interview with CEO Diana for Merton Together Magazine
Merton Chamber CEO Diana Sterck interviewed for Merton Together - Merton Partnership e-magazine '60 Second Interview'.
1. What brought you to Merton and what was it like when you first came to Merton?
I’ve been CEO of Merton Chamber of Commerce for 20 years and CEO of Sustainable Merton for 4 years. I had worked in the borough before so, in a way, it was like coming home. The characteristics of the borough haven’t changed hugely over that time except for there being a much higher percentage of small and home based businesses, with many of the larger and traditional engineering and construction type businesses moving out of London.
2. In the time you have been in Merton, aside from managing the largest local Chamber of Commerce in London, what has been your greatest achievement to date and what would you do differently?
Most definitely making Merton Chamber the largest local chamber of commerce in London and maintaining that! Growing a social enterprise, which is what we are, is no easy task. Likewise with Sustainable Merton, growing the activity we do and therefore growing the charity itself and the impact we have on educating people on climate change and influencing their behaviour.
I don’t think I would have done anything differently, what I would like to do different is for charities and social enterprises to receive longer term grants to stop us always having to chase our tails and bid for new income. It really is hard work and reduces the positive impact we can have through this stop/start approach that has become a long standing trend.
3. What are you most proud of during your time working in Merton?
- Seeing people that we helped set up in business, succeed and grow.
- Seeing young people that we have employed, blossoming and going on to great career paths.
- Celebrating all that is good in the borough and the results from people working together for the greater good.
- Sounds a bit biblical, but it is what makes me tick!
4. How would you describe the experiences of Merton’s business community now compared to when you to joined us and how do you see that changing in the next 10 years?
I think all business owners are truly amazing. Running a business gets harder and harder each year – there is so much compliance to adhere to, so much more complexity in the operational aspects, competition never reduces and costs rarely go down. Covid really demonstrated the resilience of businesses and the pressure they can withstand. Now they are facing new pressures, with the cost of energy, the negative impacts of leaving the European Community, changes associated with and costs of reaching net zero – the list is endless. All I know is that businesses are the engine of the local economy and they will continue to be so in 10 year’s time. That should never be forgotten but often feels like it is not valued.
5. As a long-standing Merton partnership member, what do you see as the key ingredients for successful partnership working?
Merton is a small borough so we have to punch above our weight and work together to leverage in resources, share learning and “shout” about what we do well. We can also move more quickly to set up and initiate partnerships than larger boroughs. Connections between strategic leaders is absolutely a key ingredient for us to work like this.
6. You always come across to be passionate and dedicated to the strategic direction of Merton, what about Merton drives you?
At the Chamber our mantra is to make Merton a great borough to work and do business in. So to fulfil on that vision, I am always passionate about doing things that will make the borough a better place. At Sustainable Merton our work focuses more on residents. Addressing climate change and waste minimisation will definitely make the borough a better place to live.
7. What are you most proud of during your time working in Merton?
My top three would be:
- Going for Gold, a campaign we ran during London 2012, when we ran numerous activities and events to celebrate the Olympics. Our legacy is the www.wimbledonway.org walk from Wimbledon Town Centre to the Village, the Common and the All England Club. As part of that campaign, we set up Love Wimbledon Business Improvement District in 2012 where we took a calculated risk that we could make it happen. It’s now ten years old, its own business, has a great team and very successful.
- Organising the 2019 and 2021 Merton Best Business Awards, a prestige event that celebrates the great businesses we have in the borough.
- Setting up Merton’s Community Fridge, which is now a network of provider supporting the growing number of people living in food crisis.
8. Describe Merton in one word.