The Secret Good News About The UK & Business

23 FEB 2010

By Doug Richard

Yesterday I attended and participated in an event hosted by UKTI, The Prime Minister, and Lord Mandelson. The purpose of the event was to communicate directly with the CEO’s of some of the world’s most important large companies who already have a presence in the UK or who are considering inward investment into the UK.

The message from the Government was unambiguous: The UK is still open for business and intends to remain so. The Government brought out all its heavy hitters and used them liberally; Gordon Brown held a private breakfast for 25 or so key figures (and a couple of not-so-key people like me) at Number 10; the PM opened the conference, Michael Porter the celebrity Harvard business Professor was the keynote, Lord Mandelson spoke more than once, took questions and networked; unusually enough for a Chancellor close to a budget, Allistair Darling also spoke. Mervyn Davies, the trade minister, compered the event. There were panels with a variety of heavyweights including Lionel Barber who chaired a feisty group with Richard Lambert the Director General of the CBI. My panel in the early afternoon was about the Future Consumer and I admit, given my rather vocal critique of the government’s policies regarding small business support, I thought it was interesting that I was asked.

What made the event impressive, far more than the obvious display of willingness by the government to put its most senior people forward, was the attendance record itself. The attendees individually are all major players and in sum made up a display of corporate gravitas that said something itself about the day. These people run crowded schedules. For some reason, it was important for them to come.

Why is that and what does it say about the UK?

Well, I think it is good news actually. This government put on a display of competence and re-assurance for key stakeholders in its well being. It did so in a way peculiar to the UK. The UK has a manner about it that is very different than other countries and cultures. It uses its great buildings and imperial facilities in a casual sort of way that takes the formality out but keeps the seriousness of purpose in place. Republics, like the US and France, tend in the opposite direction. We big things up and in the doing so make things seem a bit imperial. Thus breakfast at No.10, a day long event at the Saatchi Galleries finished by drinks at St.James’s Palace hosted by the Duke of York who cheerfully manned the floor was a seamless piece of marketing for the UK.

And it worked. I spoke with two CEO’s of key corporations who have decisions to make and each, when asked, was characteristically, straight forward. The first, a Canadian, said “I get what they were trying to communicate, and I’m sold.” The second, an Asian, said that he had come over specifically because they had invited him. He had come because it was the courteous thing to do but he would leave reminded why he had chosen the UK before and would likely do so again.

The Government was at work yesterday doing its job. It did it well. It provided re-assurance to the large end of the real business sector that the flow of inward capital is still good for the people whose capital it is.

For me though it is a bittersweet thought. That this group of people could accomplish so much, so artfully, on behalf of the nation and its enterprise, and yet has so few comparable successes in its cap for small business, new business and entrepreneurs in general.

I can only hope they apply the same new found skill and competence to their efforts to drive entreprenurialism as they do to tending the large corporate stakeholders, who are merely the few and large, along the continuum of businesses upon which the country’s well being depends.

  1. It does sound like there was an impressive line-up. However I am not sure the extent that that can be linked to the current government’s achievements, could it not be a result of their desperation to get the business vote in the forthcoming general election?

    I’d be interested to hear what specifics were mentioned that has persuaded business heavyweights that the UK plc represents a good investment.


    go here, go share, go everywhere!

  2. Thanks Doug, interesting stuff, with which I agree. Let’s hope the government begin to champion young entrepreneurs with the same passion that you do.

  3. A fascinating insight for us into “government at work” properly and a very good sign for entrepreneurship in the UK that you were invited to be present. I have only recently been made aware of your work and your School For Start Ups. I am inspired by the originality and realism in what you do and say and your invitation means you are also respected by those you criticise; which is the ultimate accolade for your work.

    You say it is a pity that excellent day of marketing for inward investment is not applied to home grown businesses and entrepreneurs. I wish to make a suggestion and hope it is neither considered by you or your team as redundant or presumptuous.

    Why not choose a small committee to join you in formulating that missing business proposal for the government to do the same sort of marketing they did on that day to obtain inward investment, to supporting small businesses wishing to expand their firms to new UK markets and/or are seeking new markets abroad physically and via the internet etc…?

    You have the skill and the know-how and a huge selection of persons from all business disciplines and experience from which to choose your team. Indeed it could be an online challenge/project for contributions initially from all your School for Start Up participants who wished to share an insight; then this would be part of the content for you and your committee to edit – rework and ultimately present formally. To make it more productive, you could create for us all categories for comment, to channel our efforts more efficiently towards your ultimate goal of The UK Marketing Plan for Small Businesses into a new National & International Markets.

    Springing to mind immediately is the fact that some proper investment to fund businesses to get into foreign markets, or develop new markets within the UK, via underwriting their presence at global trade fairs over all sectors of business would be a good start. Not the lame government stands at these shows, paying lip service, but really big innovative presence at ALL trade shows in places like China and India the US and on the continent – showing off what the UK can bring into all these markets. At the moment, funding is minor, geared politically towards narrow market sectors and very complicated and most serious businesses are too busy trying to DO business to perform the clown like contortions to get themselves minor funding or to be part of fairs that are on arbitrary lists and not really where they KNOW they should be to make a real business impact. Business must tell govenrment what they need not government tell business what they have to do to get what they government thinks they should be given.

    Your Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto is brilliant, clear and uncompromisingly original. It should be the Preface, but the core of a “game plan” springing from that Manifesto is what this, and the next government, will need. A Marketing Plan for internal and outward investment in our home grown entrepreneurs where the content actually comes from an articulate and grounded grass roots, led and consolidated under your know-how and direction. 1. because you are clearly trusted by entrepreneurs and business people 2. because you are trusted by the intended recipients of that proposal already. You clearly have earned yourself a stage, it is not time to ask “why are they not coming up with something” it is your/our time to tell them WHAT to come up with which will work for a win/win situation all round and in such a way as we bring that change into being by the very act of creating the plan and who is involved in that creation.