Business is not always about boardrooms and black coffee. So, in tribute to the North-East men and women who take a more unusual approach to enterprise, Andy Richardson looks at the unconventional, alternative or downright difficult careers in the region’s economy

Gary Hutchinson, 32, Sunderland AFC’s commercial director, is the driving force behind the emergence of the Stadium of Light as one of the UK’s biggest concert venues.

HOW did you get into this business?

I grew up on Hylton Red House council estate in Sunderland.

I left school at 16 and did my apprenticeship as an engineer at Nissan. But I knew straight away that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my working life in a factory.

I started working here as a waiter in our banqueting suite 14 years ago.

I met my next employer – Scottish and Newcastle Breweries – when I was looking after them as corporate guests. I worked for them in sales and marketing for three years while also working parttime for Sunderland.

I joined the club full-time as catering manager around the time we’d been relegated (in 2006) from the Premier League. A lot of staff had been made redundant and there was a gap in the events management side of things so I stepped into the breach.

Within three years we’d doubled turnover. We were the first stadium in the country to do university graduations. It was all about thinking differently.

The next big step was the concerts.

FOR years the big music acts bypassed the North-East, how did you persuade them to come here?

Basically, I pestered the life out of them. We tried unsuccessfully for six years to get the promoters to consider us.

I think they eventually gave in just to keep me off their case. They gave us Take That and Oasis, so we couldn’t really have started with anyone bigger.

That was the chance to show what we could do and we haven’t looked back.

This summer we have Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers – it keeps on building.

WHAT is the most unusual request you’ve had from one of the performers?

My job is to look after the promoters.

Of course we look after the acts too. They all have their little quirks. One of the funny ones was that Oasis had to be brought here in two separate cars with police outriders because Liam and Noel weren’t speaking to one another.

They refused to travel in the same car.

ARE you ever starstruck when you meet the acts?

No, never. There’s a heck of a lot of work that goes in to bringing them here and it’s not as glamorous as some people might think.

We present them with a gift from the club before the concert.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see them, but it has become part of my job.

HOW do you stop the likes of Newcastle United or Middlesbrough from taking concerts away from you?

We have got to make sure that Sunderland is the first choice for promoters to bring their acts here.

It’s not about worrying that Newcastle might come into the market. We have a pedigree now and are ahead of the game.

We are a venue of choice from Manchester upwards.

The pull of Sunderland has become so big we even stop concerts going to Scotland.

WHO do you hope to bring here next?

We have built a good relationship with Take That. It was a phenomenal thing for them to do four shows with us last year. I would like to think they would come again. We would also like to get hold of The Rolling Stones, U2 and Muse.

We’d have loved to have got Madonna’s latest tour but her schedule just didn’t fit with her coming to the North-East.

She’s still on our wish list. So are Lady Gaga and Rihanna.

WHAT’s next?

We have a subsidiary company called 1879 Events Management which is now catering for events away from the stadium.

We recently organised a clay pigeon shoot and lunch in the middle of Lambton Forest and are catering for the 20,000 people who’ll attend next month’s Northern Pride festival in Newcastle.

“We are very proud of the range of events we can manage.

I’m very passionate about the city of Sunderland and the football club. We are very ambitious.

Our philosophy is about making it easy to do business with us and to build strong and lasting relationships.

• There are a small number of tickets available for tomorrow night’s Coldplay gig and more tickets have just been made available for the concerts by Bruce Springsteen, on June 21, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, on June 24.

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