JOHN McCabe’s eyes light up as he tells the story.

Holding an imaginary mobile phone in his hand, he edges forward in his seat, the smile on his face growing wider.

He’s remembering the time he spoke to one of his footballing idols.

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The person on the other end of the line was Kenny Dalglish.

Mr McCabe is a lifelong Liverpool supporter, so you can imagine his reaction.

The call had been orchestrated by a political contact, who knew the former Newcastle United manager through a previous coaching commitment.

After hearing of Mr McCabe’s footballing persuasion over dinner, he got in touch with the ex-Scotland footballer and the rest, as they say, is history.

“The event I was attending had restarted in the room next door, but I was on the phone with him for about 20 minutes”, recalls Mr McCabe, his smile radiating around the room.

In some ways, that conversation perfectly reflects one of Mr McCabe’s ambitions as the new president of the North East England Chamber of Commerce.

The public relations agency boss - he runs Northumberland-based Fusion PR – laid out a three-pronged approach to his tenure when taking over the mantle earlier this year, and co-operation was one of them.

More specifically, it was about Chamber members growing stronger by getting to know each other better so they can work closely together, share ideas and best practices, and ultimately gain a competitive edge.

He also said it was important companies positioned themselves to benefit from public sector, as well as private sector work.

“One of the Chamber’s reasons for being is to grow the network”, he told The Northern Echo.

“But that network is not about a contacts book or the cards on your desk.

“It is about making sure that businesses are talking to one another and highlighting how Company A may be doing something that could support Company B, even if they operate in different sectors.

“The Chamber is a good conduit for that.

“It’s all about encouraging businesses to talk, so the feeling becomes that if a company is looking for something, the first place they will look for it is the North- East.

“We are a modest region and sometimes we don’t beat our chests about what we do, but we should.

“However, it’s not just the private sector, and a question we ask is ‘how do we ensure that North-East businesses are given a reasonable opportunity to support the public sector?’ “Sometimes that process can be quite daunting but companies in the region have the capability to do what is required and it’s about getting them through the door.

“That is what we need to address.”

Mr McCabe took over from Nifco UK boss Mike Matthews as the Chamber’s president a little over two months ago after the latter’s two-year stint came to an end.

With the ongoing situation with Brexit, and further issues surrounding the economy, you could forgive him for thinking he’s picked a difficult time to carry the chains.

Yet he disagrees.

The basics are there for all to see.

Companies are desperate for clarity on Brexit, they need to know the workings of future trade deals and the employment environment, but a year after the EU referendum, details are still somewhat scant.

However, Mr McCabe has his own way of looking at things, and he’s not afraid of the challenges ahead, highlighting scars from the last decade that he believes have toughened firms up and made them more resistant to the indecision.

“There is a lot of uncertainty; Brexit is top of the list but there is devolution and the Northern Powerhouse too”, said the father-of-three.

“It’s almost like uncertainty is like the new certainty and what we have seen is that businesses are resilient to that uncertainty.

“But we have gone through the financial crash, the banking crisis, the Coalition Government, the EU referendum and a General Election, and businesses have dealt with them.

“Businesses have become more resilient and the attitude is almost that ‘we will get on with what we do, with the great staff we have’.

“However, we are getting to the tipping point where we need to start putting some meat on the bones with regards to Brexit.”

If the composition of Britain’s future relationship with the EU remains somewhat hazy, what is clear is another of Mr McCabe’s presidential pillars.

He wants to see Chamber members work more closely with the talent pool being nurtured in the region to help companies fill workforce voids and youngsters take their first steps into work.

As a father, he knows all too well the decisions faced by students as they reach crossroads in their educational journey.

He cites the Chamber’s Great Reasons to Build Your Career in North East England campaign, which was launched with partner member Nifco and aims to raise awareness of careers in the region, as a key starting point, before highlighting the Building My Skills programme, spearheaded by construction firm Esh Group, based at Bowburn, near Durham City, which introduces students to the world of work through regular business engagement sessions.

He said: “It is about building on the work that has been done and has already been a success.

“Having three children, and seeing the experiences of the 20-year-old and the 18-year-old in careers guidance and work experience, I just feel that it hasn’t really moved on that far from when I was in that position.

“It is important businesses and the education sector work together to ensure children develop the skills businesses are going to need.

“And that is not just the theoretical skills either, it is the life skills too.

“It’s also about making sure there are no barriers between business and education.”

HOWEVER, Mr McCabe said it was equally important to break down barriers over gender perceptions in the classroom, so students’ options remain fully open and are not blinkered by outdated gender assumptions.

He said: “When I was at school, it was almost like if you were a lad, you were told to go into engineering or the police, and if you were a girl, it was nursing or secretarial.

“That is what I really like about the Great Reasons campaign, it looks at the breadth of opportunities across the North-East and brings it to life.”

The final element of Mr McCabe’s presidency focuses upon the challenges of mental health.

It is an emotive subject for Mr McCabe, who was diagnosed with depression in 2008.

However, he said he aims to use his experience to help others and ensure businesses are cognisant of their responsibilities.

“It is a huge issue and mental health does not respect seniority or wealth.

“I’m fortunate because the support from my family and the wider network means it has never held me back, but I am aware of people that it has.

“It is about getting rid of the stigma and raising awareness so businesses are aware of the issue and their moral obligations, and staff don’t feel like they have to keep it from their boss.

“I’ve been really encouraged by the response from the Chamber on this.

“We can all do more to support our colleagues and the Chamber is an ideal vehicle to make sure businesses have the resources and confidence to tackle the challenge of mental health in the right way.

“I’ve had great support and enthusiasm so far.”