Making time to learn is key to future prosperity, says Stephen Martin

Stephen Martin time for policy action

Making time to learn regardless of the daily challenges we face in business is key to future prosperity, writes the IoD’s director general

If you want to understand the power of new experiences, try watching a child play in the snow for the first time. My 17-month-old son saw his first snow this Christmas. At his age, the world is full of dazzling and confusing occurrences, but the few inches of frozen precipitation that built up on our drive one night still had a special ability to amaze.

It’s hard for us, as adults, to summon that same childlike joy at new experiences, but we must still find ways to hang on to our curiosity and our desire to learn. Last year was one of discovery for me in many ways. Since taking up the role of director general at the IoD in February 2017, I have entered the bubble of Westminster politics for the first time in order to represent our members. This has been eye-opening, but I have learnt so much else besides.

I have met IoD members from all parts of the UK and heard about your many successes and the challenges you face. I’ve travelled widely – to Brussels, Malta and St Petersburg – to talk about corporate governance. Everything I have seen has only strengthened my belief in the inventiveness of business and the importance of the international movement of trade and ideas. I hope you all, among the many pressures you face, were able to find some time to learn last year.

Enabling the flow and exchange of knowledge is a core purpose of the IoD, as we think that skilled and informed directors make for more productive organisations. For this reason, it has been particularly pleasing to see the launch of the new IoD Academy in our headquarters at 116 Pall Mall, which is a wonderful venue for director education. Where you are based shouldn’t be a barrier to keeping your knowledge topped up, of course, so I am looking forward to the imminent launch of our new Digital Academy, which will bring loads of brilliant learning content to our members.

We know that IoD members value what they can learn from other business leaders. For 2018, we have overhauled our annual convention to create more opportunities for members to take part in smaller workshops and seminars, where you can get insight and expertise from leaders in various fields. IoD Open House is spread over three days, from 12 to 14 March, so there’s still time for the keynote speeches you’re used to, but the ticketing is designed to be flexible, so you can dip in for the parts that really appeal to you. I very much hope to see you there.

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Be ready for GDPR

One eye-opening experience I had last year was a session on the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which all EU companies have to comply with by 25 May. When we asked members back in October, nearly a third had never heard of GDPR, which is concerning. The maximum fine for data breaches under the old rules is £500,000, but this is set to be replaced with a fine of up to €20m or four per cent of annual global turnover.

The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, does not plan to impose big fines for minor infringements, but directors must take their new responsibilities seriously. Hacks such as those we’ve seen at Yahoo and Uber will undoubtedly continue, but you must be able to show you have taken all reasonable steps to protect your customers’ data. The less you have prepared, the more vulnerable you are to regulatory action. No need to panic, but now is the time to ensure that your firm is ready for GDPR.

IoD courses

There are a range of IoD courses that can help directors stay at the top of their game, from the Chartered Director qualification to bespoke in-company training programmes. To find out more and to book a course, visit

Become a member of the IoD

The IoD has a range of memberships for directors, founders and co-founders, providing all the resources and facilities needed to enhance your business. To find out more about membership offerings and to join today, visit

About author

Stephen Martin

Stephen Martin

Stephen Martin is director general of the IoD. Prior to joining the IoD in February 2017, Martin was chief executive of Clugston Group, a role he held from 2006. While running the construction company, Martin appeared in Channel Four's Undercover Boss, assuming a new identity to go incognito in the business. Martin's career has also included roles at Westinghouse Security Systems, Amey Rail and twchief executive of Barhale Construction. He was made a fellow of the IoD in 2011. To read Director's exclusive first interview with Stephen Martin click the globe icon below.

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