Is the UK punching below its weight?
Thankfully the snow in London thawed sufficiently and I was able to fly to Zurich last night for the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos.
I always look forward to Davos. The concentration of CEOs creates a fantastic opportunity to meet and share insights with the leaders of some of our largest clients. Over the next two and a half days I’ll meet with ten CEOs. This is something that you can’t schedule in such a compressed time at any other point in the year. I also find there is a real openness in the sharing of new ideas and challenges which is hugely valuable.
This morning we hosted a UK Futures breakfast for CEOs and CXOs. I was on a panel with leaders from Arup, London Business School, Markit Group and the Saïd Business School. Our point of view is that the UK punches below its weight in growth markets such as China, India and others. At the moment these 20 growth markets account for only 16 per cent of the UK’s trade, while the US and Europe remain its main trading partners.
There is no point in criticising the past. Our proposition is that we are now at an exciting inflection point. With a rapidly developing middle class and widespread urbanisation the needs of these growth economies are moving from transport, heavy industry and infrastructure to looking for skills and expertise in knowledge-intensive industries such as technology, education, and business and professional services. This is an area of real strength for UK plc – previously we have just had the wrong sort of things to export.
To make the most of this opportunity will require more than just selling – we talked about the need for a business ecosystem of collaboration and joint marketing. This is not a panacea – the right skills need to be in place and pricing is always important – but there was real resonance in the audience and across the panel for these ideas. The Indian and Chinese leaders at the breakfast spoke of the critical importance of building relationships in these markets.
Later on today I have client meetings with the CEO of a major consumer goods business and the CEO of major retailer and it will be interesting to get their ideas on this issue.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a thought from one of the main sessions I’ve attended on ‘Leading in Adversity’. Many business and political leaders speak about the need for greater certainty in the environment before they can move forward. An alternative view is that it’s precisely these conditions that will allow some business to break away from their competitors and establish themselves as leaders. The challenge for leaders will be to find the right balance between these conflicting views.
Find out more about UK Futures: our strategic campaign to help address the ongoing challenges facing the UK economy through a strategic discussion on the role for business in wealth creation.