Reasons for Optimism? Report from the IoD West Midland’s Spring Dinner
This year’s Spring Dinner was attended by over 70 members at the superb Hogarth’s Stone Manor Hotel, near Kidderminster, on 22nd March. We enjoyed an excellent dinner, along with the opportunity to network and discuss all the key things that business people do on such occasions. The highlights, of course, were the two after dinner speakers, introduced by the region’s IOD Council member, Brian Hall, both of whom gave us some cause for optimism in the coming months.
First on was the IoD’s new senior economist, Tej Parikh. As a former economics student myself, I know how hard it can be make a presentation about economics interesting and accessible, but Tej certainly succeeded, drawing upon one of his other skills as a former freelance journalist, to keep us informed in an easy to understand way.
Amidst all the uncertainty around the Brexit process, Tej took us through the key challenges that the UK economy faces including: higher inflation, subdued wages, weak investment and skills shortages. He also commented on the opportunities that existed, notably: the improved export opportunities due to a weaker Sterling, better global economic growth, the need to raise productivity, and perhaps above all, the need to retool the economy post-Brexit, as part of a long term industrial strategy, where digital and physical infrastructure are the top priorities for Government action.
Of course, this will not be easy, as Tej emphasised, but it was good to hear a note of cautious optimism, just as it was good to hear some positive things about the West Midlands. Based on the IoD’s own member surveys, we heard that the West Midlands is high up on the regional economic confidence scale, and is the fastest growing region in the UK. As our regional director, Calum Nisbet, pointed out, this shows the importance of the member surveys.
Tej was followed by Brigadier Jock Fraser, naval regional commander for Wales and Western England. Jock took us through his fascinating 25 year – and counting - career, which has taken him to over 60 countries, including Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq as well as seeing service in the Balkans and being present at the fall of the Berlin Wall. Of particular interest and relevance to the IoD was what he had to say about leadership and teamwork, something he knows a great deal about starting from his early days in the Royal Marines.
We found out that the Marines is the only armed service branch where officers and the lower ranks all train together in the same place, with a 32 week basic training programme – the longest in the Western World. In particular, the focus on effective leadership and making good decisions under duress was key. Jock went on to stress that although there has been a significant increase in the use of technology during his time, the most important thing was to keep people at the forefront of everything. Just as it should be in business.
So a big thank you to all involved for an excellent evening, as well as our sponsors: Harrison Clark Rickerbys, BHSF and Qatar Airways. It was one of the best regional dinners I have been to.