It’s been challenging but I know we’ve made a difference

This issue of IoD Midlands coincides with the end of my time as IoD West Midlands chair, so I thought it was appropriate to reflect on my period in office in this, my final message to members.

In 2018 I remember taking up the reins knowing I was in for a rough ride; after all, there were some serious challenges ahead. Brexit was an issue that had the potential to menace businesses across the region and I also knew that the fight to push the Government on HS2 would take up a lot of my time.

But it wouldn’t be all bad news: there were good things to look forward to, not least the news that Birmingham would host the Commonwealth Games, and Coventry was to be the City of Culture. Covid? What’s that, then?

Amazing how, to twist a well-known quote, the best-made plans of mice and men… end up in the bin! Yes, Brexit has been a challenge, one that dominated the airwaves and many directors’ thoughts for months. But when compared with the arrival of the pandemic, Brexit was a mere hurdle in the road, while Covid-19 was a 20-foot high reinforced steel wall. Yet the way the region’s business leaders responded to the scale of the emergency, how quickly they developed a response and the steps they took to keep operating, was extraordinary.

From a standing start businesses relocated staff, set up home working systems and switched to Zoom meetings in an object lesson of agile leadership at its best. I take considerable pride in the role the IoD played in the Covid response. The Treasury’s support packages for businesses, workers and the self-employed were heavily influenced by IoD submissions into Westminster, and these in turn had more than a touch of ‘Made in the West Midlands’ stamped across them. In short, what our members told us they needed in this region was fed directly into the IoD’s response, and this ultimately guided the government.

I don’t think it is too alarmist to say that without the IoD, the various packages of support could have looked very different. The fightback So now we are coming out of Covid, what’s next? Well, the key thing is to get everyone back on their feet. Some sectors – hospitality, travel and leisure are obvious examples – are still struggling to come to terms with the new realities, and it is to be hoped that when you read this the July 19 freedom date has been set in stone.

Business will struggle with further restrictions and we must hope that the vaccination programme will deliver the results we all pray for in the long-term. But while such issues are not in the IoD’s hands, what we can control is how we help our members. The IoD should be your first port of call when you want support, advice and guidance. We’ll continue to fight your corner. But we are also here to develop your skills and increase your knowledge through our director development programmes, while at the same time the IoD can be the space in which you can talk to your fellow business leaders to gain that crucial peer support we will all need as we climb out of the abyss together.

As for the IoD itself, the pandemic has given us the chance to take a look at our operating model and refocus the way we support and serve our members. The result is an IoD that’s better placed to deliver locally, with a greater regional focus. Our regional committees now have more scope for concentrating on local priority issues, with a greater say given to the grassroots membership. That’s why I’m asking members to help develop this further – whether it is on our branch committees or by taking on one of our Ambassador roles. The latter are particularly crucial, as we’d like to have a full complement of sectors and professions covered by an IoD member by the autumn.

That way, if an issue arises that needs an IoD overview, or we have members struggling in a particular area, we will have a knowledgeable spokesperson who can address the issue on our behalf. If you want any further information about the Ambassador roles available, or how to get involved with our branch committees, let our branch chairs know.

Locally, it is great to report that a new IoD members’ hub should be opening soon, in the centre of Birmingham. We are also looking to re-start our ‘in-person’ events programme. While I’m sure some Covid-19 measures will still be in place, face-to-face training and events should be back on the agenda by the autumn.

Farewell and thank you!

Before I take my leave, however, some reminiscing and some thank yous. Looking back, as I said at the start, certain issues and projects were likely to loom large during my time as chair. HS2 was one and it has been brilliant to get involved with this, corralling support and championing what is a vital and exciting project that I think can have only a positive impact for the Midlands as a whole. But there are other triumphs to dwell on.

It has been great to see plans take shape for the Commonwealth Games, despite the backdrop of Covid, and for Coventry’s big year to get off to a flying start. But there have been other, more personal highlights of my time as IoD chair. Among them have been my many meetings with members, particularly on our ‘behind the scenes’ events where I’ve had a chance to draw back the curtain on how our region’s most successful companies operate.

Other standouts have included the Director of the Year awards, which are always an inspirational point in the year, and a chance to watch a Royal Naval exercise off Plymouth from the vantage point of the flagship’s deck. To all those business owners who kindly threw open their doors to us and all the members I’ve met on my travels, a huge thank you. I rarely left any of these encounters without some advice and pointers that enhanced my own skill set.

Finally, to the thank yous. The reorganisation of the IoD last summer led to some painful decisions, not least of which was losing members of our regional team. My thanks go to Calum Nisbet and Jo Dukes for their unstinting hard work in the run-up to that decision last year.

My thanks, too, to Sophie Breeden and Cari Grice, who have stepped up to the challenges we’ve put in front of them to keep the IoD active throughout this difficult time. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the work of our branch network – especially Ian Priest, Dean Kavanagh, Jo Hodgetts and Andy Wilkinson – and to the many members who have agreed to be our ambassadors on key areas. But it’s time for me to leave the stage and hand over the reins to a new regional chair, who will be in place by autumn.

I shall not be leaving the IoD behind entirely, however. I have been asked to chair a new national IoD export group that will be a central focal point for exporters, tackling Brexit-related problems and helping those businesses looking to expand their horizons and trade overseas for the first time. It’s an exciting proposition that comes at exactly the right time for both the IoD and the country. It’s in that capacity that I look forward to meeting you again – or at a members’ event in the near future, where I will enjoy sitting back and revelling once more in the business leaders and conversations around me.

Thank you again Brian, from the IoD!

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The IoD supports directors and business leaders across the UK and beyond to learn, network and build successful, responsible businesses.
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