Notable Alumni - David Frost

David Frost
Postgraduate Diploma in International Finance, 1979

Robert Humphreys

David Frost has devoted his career to promoting the interests of British business, rising to become Director General of British Chambers of Commerce. Even in his retirement, he can’t seem to stop – he recently helped set up a national network of Local Enterprise Partnerships, and is involved with a number of charities working to help young people improve their key skills and boost their employability. 

David Frost was already working as an economist in the City when he came to the then Polytechnic of the South Bank to study International Finance. He credits the course with inspiring the career move that was to shape the rest of his professional life. ‘From South Bank I went to the West Midlands to set up a new economics unit within the Walsall Chamber of Commerce, and I’ve been involved with the Chambers ever since,’ he says. ‘I realised that I really enjoyed running businesses.’

At the time, the West Midlands region was attracting huge amounts of inward investment from Japan, particularly in the booming automotive and electronics industries. David’s understanding of international finance meant he was ideally placed to advise businesses on how to make the most of these opportunities. At the same time, with the recession of the early 1980s at its height, he was also busily setting up training programmes to tackle growing youth unemployment – a thread that has run throughout his career. 

The focus then was very much on the importance of vocational training – in construction, in engineering, in business administration – something for which David, himself educated at a technical school, has always been a strong advocate. ‘From the day I started my working life to the day I finished,’ he has said, ‘the big cry from employers was that schools were not equipping young people with the skills they needed for the modern world. Having young people without skills just stores up big problems for the future.’ 

From Walsall, he moved to head up the Chamber of Commerce for Coventry and Warwick. Then in 2003, he moved to Westminster to become Director General of the entire network of British Chambers of Commerce, responsible for representing and promoting the interests of more than 100,000 British businesses. He spent much of his time travelling around the UK, finding out what issues businesses were facing. The insights he gained from this enabled the Chambers to shift focus to help businesses cope with the impending recession; work that David believes helped to minimise the number of businesses that failed during the downturn. 

When he stepped down in 2011, he immediately took on the role of chairing the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Network. LEPs aim to give local businesses a real say in how money is invested in roads, buildings and facilities in their area. They also have a vital role to play in working to ensure that the workforce has the skills employers need. ‘Companies want to expand,’ he says, ‘but they haven’t necessarily got the skills to do it. LEPs should be providing that understanding of what’s happening in the labour market.’ 

David is also still working to strengthen the skills base and, particularly, to help young people improve their employability through his charity work. VInspired, the charity he helped set up in 2012, uses social media to connect young people up to the age of 25 with volunteering opportunities. He is also chair of the National Numeracy Trust, and Take Charge, which works with a range of non-profit partners to provide financial and enterprise education for young people. 

Unsurprisingly, asked what his advice would be to current LSBU students, the answer comes straight back: ‘Get some experience! Employers are bombarded with applications from people with great qualifications. You need to show them that you’re enterprising, and that you’re able to engage with the outside world. Of course, vocational skills are vitally important. But in today’s job market, soft skills really are becoming core skills. That’s how you make yourself stand out from the crowd.’ 

© London South Bank University 2018