Mark Lund, CEO of McCann Worldgroup UK, says nationwide collaboration and a rebalancing of the economy away from the south-east can see Britain thrive outside the EU
As recently as late September, the confidence of business leaders was shown to be recovering markedly in the wake of the Brexit vote. The UK Economic Index, generated from a poll of directors by YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research, showed confidence leaping to a score of 112.4 in the month to 23 September, up from 105 immediately after the 23 June vote (a score of over 100 indicates positive sentiment). Yet this result came before the recent Conservative party conference with its signs that the country may be heading for a ‘hard Brexit’, and the subsequent further shocks to sterling.
Uncertainty remains the prevailing condition, but Mark Lund – chief executive of marketing giant McCann Worldgroup UK – believes business can wrest back control of its destiny by focusing on one particular issue highlighted by the referendum result: “Like a lot of people who favoured remain, my first emotion was shock. The second was resentment that the country had done this with all the inherent risk. But the third and lasting one was that this was a powerful wake-up call to people who work and live in London and the south-east, because the sense of wellbeing felt there was very graphically not shared by a majority of the country. The lasting good that may come of this is a realisation that business and government must work harder to make sure both opportunity and support is more equally divided.”
While acknowledging that public infrastructure investments such as HS2 will have an important longer-term impact on fostering countrywide collaboration, and that an improvement in internet connectivity across the UK is a “massive priority”, Lund – whose firm has offices in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol – says there are moves businesses can make now to improve the fortunes of themselves and the country as a whole. For those in the south-east, more appreciation of the savings from setting up operations further afield is a good place to start: “One of the great benefits of being outside London is that you’ve got a better cost base in terms of space, you can create your own resources much more easily than you can in London. And because everything’s digitally transmitted now anyway, the absolute necessity of being in London is much less than it has been in the past.”
Take the initiative
Allied to this, he adds, is the vast talent pool available across the country from the UK’s higher education establishments – one that requires business to make the first move. Praising projects such as the STEM Training Centre at Middlesbrough College, in which companies have invested to ensure that students emerge with business-ready skills, he adds: “We work very closely with Macclesfield College, they’ve been absolutely brilliant, but we made the first step to say ‘could we do this with you?’ If businesses take that first step towards local colleges they will be amazed at how helpful and enthusiastic colleges will be.
“We now take on around 12 school leavers every year, bringing them in for 12 months – they do one day a week at college and the rest of the time they move around our departments. At the end they get a level-three advanced apprenticeship and an NVQ in marketing. What’s brilliant for us is that they then tend to stay because they’ve become part of the culture – those people are growing up and permeating the entire business. We thrive on the creativity and fresh ideas of people coming out of the local educational establishments.”
Another area for which businesses should adopt a more countrywide focus, Lund argues, is in the search for fresh ideas ripe for investment. Pointing to cities with multiple accelerator and science park projects, such as Aberdeen, Cardiff, Leicester, Liverpool and Sheffield, he says: “The role of accelerators in the UK is powerful – they can provide the connective tissue between small businesses with a great idea and the people who want to invest. There is still more money around than there are good ideas to put it in, but I think the danger is that those VCs tend to look in a comparatively small number of places that are close to home.”
Essential to this process of reaching out further across the country than before is, Lund adds, more widespread adoption of social media among SMEs: “If you’re a smaller business, and one more removed from the big cities, you can now punch above your weight in terms of reaching your audience… Any business that isn’t using social media tools to find people they could collaborate with is missing a trick. Gone are the days when you had to literally go to a city, find the street where your potential collaborator was and knock on the door – you can do that in less than five minutes via social media, but the tools are still under-exploited by a lot of businesses despite their huge potential.”
To leaders of bigger companies, he says: “The big businesses that have a stakeholding in the prosperity of the country need to act to ensure that prosperity is as widely spread as possible. Businesses that are doing well, that are thriving in the UK but based in the south-east, need to be looking out into the regions and asking: what is it we can do to collaborate and to help create the next round of brilliant businesses?… One of the most enduring qualities of the Brits is that they are flexible, creative and resourceful and those are qualities we’re going to need. The only attitude now is one of positivity and ‘can do’ because, as business leaders, we can’t entirely control the way the negotiation and policies will unfold – but we can control the way we react and how we make the best of the opportunities that are presented. There will be opportunities for sure.”
McCann Worldgroup info
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