TO most people in Middlesbrough, entrepreneur and fundraiser Andy Preston has been a familiar face for some time.

Best known for his high-profile charity ventures, Mr Preston is the driving force behind CEO Sleepout, which raises funds for the homeless by persuading Britain’s bosses to spend a night under the stars.

With communications expert Tanya Garland, he founded Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation in 2011 and has been instrumental in bringing together dozens of local businesses and individuals as patrons and supporters, raising more than £3m to support community groups and charities.

Mr Preston’s acclaimed Linthorpe Road restaurant Fork in the Road was set up to provide jobs and training to vulnerable people, such as the homeless, those leaving prison, or those with addictions.

But in recent weeks, Mr Preston’s profile rose several notches as he grabbed national media attention for being elected mayor of Middlesbrough, becoming the latest ‘outsider’ candidate to pip established party politicians to office.

Commentators said it was another sign of a sea change in UK politics. They have a point. In 2015, independent candidate Andy Preston was defeated in the mayoral elections by Labour’s Dave Budd with a winning margin of just 256 votes. A hair’s breadth in polling terms. Four years on, Mr Preston stormed to victory to become Middlesbrough mayor with 58 per cent of the vote. His nearest rival, Labour’s Mick Thompson, came in at around 23 per cent. By anyone’s measure, this was a landslide victory.

Middesbrough’s new mayor may have been eyeing a political role in recent years but his background is rooted firmly in the business world.

Born and raised in Acklam, he gained an MA from the University of Edinburgh before working in London as a financial markets trader.

He successfully built and ran a number of trading businesses for international financial organisations, later creating and managing a large hedge fund group for a European bank.

After moving back to the North-East, he supported a number of local businesses, providing them with ideas and capital.

The 52-year-old runs the successful property business Green Lane Capital with his brother. Among its projects was the conversion of 19th-century Middlesbrough building previously known as the Cleveland Club into office accommodation called Boho Four Gibson House, and the refurbished office space in Stockton relaunched as Level Q.

He recently confirmed he was stepping from his role as chairman of Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, to concentrate on his new and, one imagines, incredibly busy day job.

Speaking shortly after his election success, we asked the new mayor to introduce himself to BusinessiQ readers.  

What have you been doing since you were elected?

My initial goal was to get out on the street and meet people, to listen to them and show the whole town that I'm here to work for them. I'll always continue to do this but soon I'll also start to focus on specific projects I want to make happen, which is great news for the town.

Recent election results across Britain - council, mayoral, and for the European Parliament, have led commentators to say that the two-party system has had its day. Do you agree with this assessment?

It's great that so many people now vote the way they want to rather than who their parents voted for. I think that the two main parties will stay relatively strong and enjoy support but times have definitely changed and politicians are having to listen to voters and respect them more.

One of your election pledges was to bring new investment into the town, creating jobs for existing and new businesses. How will you achieve this and are you targeting any particular sectors?

I'm focussed on bringing real investment into Middlesbrough and I believe I can do this. I've already been playing a small role in existing projects and some of my extensive experience is proving very useful, so that's great. I'll target any sector or geography that will help us to create jobs and life changing opportunities.
Tell BusinessiQ readers a little bit about your background. What jobs did your parents do and what are your earliest memories of business and industry on Teesside?

My dad was a joiner who then went to night school and studied to become a teacher. Relatively late in life, after kids, my mother studied and trained to become a social worker which she did till retirement age.  Growing up I didn't really know anyone in business and it seemed like everyone's parents worked at places like ICI and British Steel - obviously things have changed hugely since then and Teesside looks different too. I fondly remember industry being far more evident and active - it was everywhere and it felt like our economy was physical and strong.

What is your favourite place in Middlesbrough and why?

My favourite place right now is Teessaurus Park on the banks of the river. It's a staggering place that's usually quiet and there are great riverside walks to do that start from there. The park has several steel dinosaur sculptures which give it a unique feel.  Enhancing this park and helping more people to enjoy it is really important to me and will be great news for the whole of Teesside.

 (The mayoral result aside) What has been the highlight of your career?

I don't know. I never feel very accomplished or successful. I certainly don't ever feel like I've achieved a goal. I guess this makes sure I work hard and keep pushing. 

Who are your North-East business heroes?

Sir Peter Vardy is a kind and good man who sets standards that others should aspire to. There are many others too I could mention but here are three very inspiring individuals: Bill Scott of Wilton Group for his staggering energy, optimism and generosity; Alastair Powell of Cleveland Cable for his huge success and personal modesty; Sean Wadsworth of W Series for his success, drive and generosity.

On Twitter you have a personal account and a mayoral account. Do you think it’s important for public figures to separate their ‘business’ self from their personal persona self on social media?

It's not 100 per cent necessary but I decided to do it for now. I think a picture of me messing about on holiday should probably be on a personal social media account and not one that also covers important stuff about people's futures. 

Sir Richard Branson has a ‘no ties’ culture in his businesses, which he thinks makes his staff more relaxed and creative. In your mayoral life are you a suit and tie guy or are we more likely to see you in jeans and jumper? 

I built my financial career in an environment of wearing whatever we wanted, definitely not suits, we even wore shorts and flip-flops in the summer. So, I don't see the need for a tie - but to some people it does send a message that you take things seriously. I think dress code is up to the individual and should be tailored for specific audiences. I am considering introducing dress down days to see how that goes. Watch this space...