Energetic 11 years for EEEGR founder John Best

As the hunt is on for a successor to head EEEGR, outgoing chief executive and founder John Best looks back on his achievements and looks to the future of the industry and the organisation. Annabelle Dickson reports.

It is a accolade that John Best regards with a mixture of pride and bemusement – his ranking two places above Delia Smith in the EDP's Power 100 in 2008.

He may not own a Premier League football club, but in 11 years at the helm and as founder of the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR) he – and those who have worked alongside him – have created a strong voice and support organisation for the energy sector in the East of England.

Mr Best has now announced that he is standing down to take up the post of head of sustainable energy UK at Fendercare.

As a successor is sought and Mr Best looks back on his tenure, he says the biggest achievement for the organisation was simply being there as a strong, independent, business-driven membership organisation.

'History will show many other organisations both nationally and regionally that have come and gone,' he explained. 'But it is not just about survival. It is about being effective and making a difference on the journey.'

As a founding member of the former East Anglian Business Environment Club (EABEC) in 1993 he looked at business opportunities within Southern North Sea gas platform decommissioning.

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He was also area manager for UK Waste and helped to organise a conference in autumn 1996 looking at why this area should get the work. From there Great Yarmouth Recommissioning Partnership (GYRP) was born and that became EEEGR.

On April 1, 2001 when it opened for business it had one employee – John Best – and no members.

Mr Best leaves EEEGR with an executive of seven staff, reporting to what he describes as an engaged and committed board, hosting a shared regional inward investment director for the Norfolk and Suffolk Energy Alliance and representing 360 members.

Over the years Mr Best has seen great changes in the energy sector.

'When we started EEEGR, the UK was producing 100pc of its own natural gas,' he said. 'Today it is around about 60pc.'

Yet, he said, the gas industry still accounts for about 90pc of the value in the supply chain.

'New uses for depleted reservoirs are on the horizon in the form of gas storage and carbon capture and storage,' he said. 'This will change at an increasing rate as the offshore wind industry moves into industrial scale delivery. A new nuclear power station will be built at Sizewell C, whilst Bradwell and Sizewell A are closed and in decommissioning.'

He also adds that the impact of climate change had seen a significant ramp up in attention, yet reductions in outputs and demands for energy have been impacted more by the economic downturn rather than mitigation measures.

'Perhaps the most significant change is a better understanding of the need for a balanced mix of generation as we move towards secure, sustainable, affordable and lower carbon energy for the future. And the East of England with its natural, built and about to be built assets is perfectly positioned to deliver this for UK plc,' he said.

As his post at EEEGR comes to an end, Mr Best is at pains to mention the people with whom he has worked.

'I am most proud of the friendships I have been fortunate enough to enjoy and the people I have met and worked with over the years,' he said. 'EEEGR truly is a combination of the skills and talents of thousands. I have been in the envious position of acting as the figurehead for all of that positive energy. That, at times, has been a challenge as you know that the real value belongs to others.

'But my job has always been to wave the flag and raise the profile of the industry as a whole. When I was asked to reflect back on my career my biggest challenge was to do so in a way that recognised the individuals who have all played their part in the success that is EEEGR.

'As soon as you mention one name there are 20 more that you have missed out.'

So with his departure what does the future hold for EEEGR and what is he looking for in a successor?

'Over the past two years EEEGR has undergone a process of transition. With the closure of the East of England Development Agency the organisation has worked to strengthen its own infrastructure to enable it to truly be the 'go-to place' for the energy industry in the region. We work tirelessly with others to try and communicate through one compelling voice.

'As New Anglia LEP has evolved we have contributed to a strong focus on growing the national economy through our regional energy assets.

'We were involved in winning enterprise zone status for Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth and in government designation of the area as a centre for renewable offshore engineering. We are also an active partner with the public sector and chamber of commerce through NSEA (Norfolk and Suffolk Energy Alliance) in attracting investment into the region. Our skills for energy programme is cited by government as the exemplar for what other regions should be doing.

'The future and EEEGR's sustainability will be assured by keeping clear focus on doing more of what we have done well since 2001, better.'

He added: 'EEEGR as the region's vibrant energy association with rising membership of more than 360 is in a great place at the moment, which is a key reason why I have chosen to move on.

'The organisation will provide a brilliant platform for someone who will bring passion to a leading industry group, which is pivotal in the exciting and growing energy sector over the next decade.

'This can only be achieved through engaging people and stakeholder organisations, sharing visions, and facilitating synergy by bringing people together with common purpose. It will also be an opportunity for an individual to profile the true strength of EEEGR which is reflected through its membership.

'Also to highlight the fantastic business potential which is in excess of �50bn expenditure developing low carbon energy in the next 10-15 years within an 80-mile radius of my desk in Great Yarmouth.'

So did he think EEEGR would be where it is today when he set out?

'Strangely I never had any doubts that EEEGR would be successful. From the early days of GYRP I had learned that a positive approach can blast its way through all sorts of problems, carried by a tide of enthusiasm. Like-minded individuals coalesce to form strong partnerships where problems become challenges become solutions.

'I have been very fortunate to gain such high-level support from such a wide range of businesses and organisations. That has not always been easy and I guess I have probably broken a few eggs along the way.

'But at the heart of the matter is the underlying raison d'etre of EEEGR. And that is the things that we do must benefit the supply chain.'

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