Embrace change – it’s the only reliable thing we have left
Welcome to this, the Autumn issue of IoD East Midlands. It arrives with you shortly after we have hosted a visit to the region from the IoD’s Director-General, Stephen Martin. You can find a more comprehensive report of his visit elsewhere in this magazine, but for me, the main takeaway from talking to him is his determination to refocus the IoD’s strategy.
Working in close partnership with our new Chair, Charlotte Valeur, Stephen is going to be very busy over the next few months, moving the IoD forward, changing its operations and their focus and making the IoD a better fit with the modern business environment. The key has to be to make the membership proposition one that works for all businesses: from the old, established bastions of the city to the young, up-and-coming tech giants of the future, currently being created in quiet industrial estates and business parks across the UK.
For me, one of the main ways we can add value to your membership is by bringing directors together for peer learning. Our Mastermind groups are a way to deliver this: small, focused groups that are the ideal model for peer-to-peer discussions on the best way to tackle the challenges all businesses face. If you see a Mastermind group is operating in your area, sign up and go along; I’m sure you’ll find it an excellent way to improve you as a business leader.
I mentioned ‘challenge’ in the last section and I suppose I have to now move to the biggest challenge business has faced in decades: Brexit.
Or is it? While it engenders hours of discussion on TV and radio, and yards of column inches in the newspapers, is it all you are talking about in your business? I suppose it depends largely on the sector you operate in: I can imagine that if you read this from the position of a director in a large manufacturing business with a complex pan-European supply chain, it may well be dominating the conversation. But it struck me the other day, while listening to another debate on the subject, that perhaps this is more the older generation of the business leader who is getting most hot under the collar, but that the younger generation are not as phased by the possibility of radical change to the way we operate. Rather, they are shrugging the issues off with a nonchalant ‘what will be will be’.
The fact is, the one thing that business has demanded all the way through the Brexit negotiations has been certainty; we have demanded to know what shape the future landscape will take. Yet perhaps, in the modern business environment, this is a forlorn hope, Brexit or not; that the only thing we can rely on in the future is change, creating an unsettled, dynamic and fluid environment in which to work.
Surely the one thing the digital era has taught us is that change and disruption is never-ending; that no matter how good you are today, tomorrow could see you slide from your lofty perch. The constant changes around us can sink even the sturdiest looking vessels. Think of the high street ‘giants’ that have fallen in recent years – all killed off by the arrival of the shopping websites that cut them off at the knees. Think of the panic in the world of motoring as newcomers such as Tesla look to disrupt the contented and accepted hegemony of US/French/German/Japan car giants.
Such dramatic and radical change is all part of modern life – so is Brexit just another symptom of this? Is the new paradigm one in which unsettling change is actually just another set of opportunities, during which the walls that cornered some businesses shift to allow them to break free, enter new market and grow? When I speak to young entrepreneurs at our IoD 99 events, that’s the feeling I get: that there is a new breed of business leaders who are looking at Brexit as an opportunity, not a threat.
So should we worry so much about a loss of predictability? After all, we can all look back to times when we’ve been forced to evolve and adapt to cope with new demands, new technology or new regulations. But that shouldn’t take away from the negatives that a no deal Brexit could bring. I know that for big businesses – particularly those aforementioned manufacturers with complex supply chains – Brexit is a potential nightmare, whereas perhaps the leaner and faster-on-their feet SMEs may be thinking it will be okay in the end.
The deadline for Brexit negotiations moves ever closer. On reflection I still hope that somewhere along the line a deal that is mutually beneficial can be done – but I retain a deeply held belief that whatever the outcome, the resourcefulness and hard-working directors in this region will find a way to ensure their businesses flourish and grow.
Remember, if you need any help or advice, the answer can probably be obtained by talking to a fellow IoD member – and there’s no better way of starting that conversation than attending one of our many events.