Business is not always about boardrooms, briefings and black coffee. So, in tribute to those who take a more unusual approach to enterprise, Business Writer Steven Hugill examines the unconventional, alternative or downright difficult careers in the North-East

SUCCESSFUL careers are based on climbing the job ladder. In Alistair Magee's case, however, his progression has been built on climbing trees.

The 30-year-old, originally from Hartlepool, runs North-East company, AM Professional Tree Surgeons, and is a national tree climbing champion.

Tree Surgeon

How did your career start? I started when I was 16. I worked hard and came out of school with five GCSEs but always knew I was no academic so enrolled at Houghall Agricultural College, in Durham. I wanted to learn Environmental Studies but three days before it was due to start, my course was cancelled because there wasn't enough students.

I walked away but then a lecturer called Tony Pinkerton grabbed me and asked if I wanted to do arboriculture – tree surgery – on a two year course. I did, and it changed my life.

Was it difficult learning to be a tree surgeon? When my course started, I felt a real sense of excitement and I quickly excelled at practical climbing and was given a job with a local tree surgery company on my days off. I felt so proud and grasped the opportunity.

When I was 18, I achieved a national diploma in aboriculture and got a job in Italy. I struggled with the culture shock, and after about four months I decided to move to Amsterdam where I worked for nine months. What was it like working abroad? I got another job in Sweden and lived there for four years until I was 23. I had now excelled ten-fold in every sense. I could work as much as I wanted and often did 80 hours, seven days a week.

In Sweden, the tree surgery profession bordered on celebrity status. We were always on television and in newspapers, and people's reaction to us was that of disbelief. We even worked for the King of Sweden and other famous people and our order books were filled up for years in advance.

How did you start tree climbing? My time in Sweden improved my career so much, and it was here I became Swedish tree climbing champion four times in a row. I then moved onto competitions all over the world, and was the 2012 UK and Ireland champion. I live to work and I'm only truly happy when climbing.

What made you return to the UK? My friend, Jon Turnbull, a fellow tree climber, invited me home for Christmas one year to his home near Reading. That experience made me think a lot and in 2005 I came back to Hartlepool. There is nowhere like home and I had unfinished business.

I started as a freelance tree climber, travelling all over the UK, and bought machinery and trucks to start my business. Tree work has given me purpose, motivation and opportunity to connect with life, and it makes me feel worthwhile. I have always loved my work and feel very passionate about it.

Any advice for people interested in becoming a tree surgeon? Anyone can do it, the only thing that ultimately defines you is how you go about it. Going to college is a great first step, and can be a one week course to five years. Experience is vital and you have to be willing to work outside in all weathers.

But this job feels like you're getting paid to do a hobby. It is a rewarding career and you get a great feeling from watching a tree you have worked on grow and mature.

Any factors of your job you don't like? The only frustration I have is that there will never again be trees like the ones we have today because people are so intolerant. The urge to fell them is too great and the increasing population and need for housing won't help.

Most people are totally unaware that almost all of a tree's root system is just two or three feet below the ground and the roots feeding the tree are as fine as human hair.

Moving the soil around a tree can cause disease and we are always having to fell trees because of that.