Henrietta Brealey

Up close and personal with Henrietta Brealey, the ‘desperately shy’ intern who became director of policy and strategic relationships at Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce – and one of Brum’s Top 30 Under 30 


I moved to Birmingham from Rugby almost 10 years ago for university. It wasn’t until I took part in the UpRising Leadership programme that I fell in love with the place. The programme teaches potential young leaders how to develop the skills to transform communities for the better. I was introduced to the Chamber of Commerce and in three years I went from being a part-time intern to director of policy & strategic relationships. In September 2018, I was appointed to the GBCC Board as an executive director. This year I was listed as one of Birmingham Live’s Brum 30 Under 30.


I try and make Greater Birmingham the best possible place to do business. With my team, I find out challenges facing businesses and help them overcome them – through briefing on how to get their business ready for policy changes (from IR35 to Brexit) or lobbying stakeholders on their behalf. We also help connect businesses to opportunities through major projects such as HS2 or Commonwealth Games and help spread best practice on everything from leadership and people management to business resilience. We also do a lot of research on what the business community think about the local economy or changes on the horizon. It’s spectacularly diverse and I love it – it’s like having a finger on the pulse of the city.


I can really see the value in better connecting businesses and stakeholders and in helping businesses inspire and inform each other through sharing best practice. As a not-for-profit, at the Chamber we look for innovative ways to fund a lot of our campaign work. We’ve recently developed Insight & Intelligence services (commercial research and communications packages for businesses and the public sector). I’m aiming to keep growing this commercial activity so that we can keep growing our support for businesses.


I was desperately shy growing up. Going to a networking event and talking to strangers would have literally been torture for me right up to my early 20s. I am genuinely proud of how my confidence has grown over the years.


Getting over-excited about the potential of a project and forgetting that I’ve got to put the same care into looking after myself too. Something I’m pleased to say I’ve got (am getting) a whole lot better at!


Where else can you take in a Black Sabbath exhibition down the hall from the Staffordshire Hoard, eat far too much at Colmore Food festival and learn salsa at the Latin American festival all in one weekend? It’s a complicated, occasionally confusing to navigate, fun, colourful, sprawling beauty of a place packed full of delicious food, hidden gems and lovely welcoming people.


I love to travel – so far I’ve visited more than 30 countries (so only 160-odd to go…). Columbia and Cuba have been the standouts. I enjoy hiking with my partner in the Peak District, Clent Hills and Malvern Hills and cooking. I’ve also got very into podcasts lately.