In the first of a series of three articles, Carl Richardson encourages businesses to accept the current wave of uncertainties and embrace the opportunities that exist on the flip side of the same coin.
Writing from the perspective of a West Midlands business that has been fortunate to have enjoyed a measure of success over the past seventy years of trading, subsequent articles will discuss the importance of establishing a national plan for the UK economy, and why driving exports and international trade is so critical to economic growth.
“It’s a state of mind”
These simple words have been used in recruitment campaigns for our Royal Marines for many years, emphasising the power of mental resilience and fortitude in overcoming adversity and consistently achieving goals in the face of what can seem like overwhelming obstacles.
Right now, with the world facing what feels like a whole series of generational threats, challenges and changes to the post-war international order, these words feel more apt than ever.
This is certainly the case in the UK, as the country experiences a political ‘interregnum’ whilst waiting for the anointment of the next Prime Minister in early September. At the same time, a 40-year high inflation rate is impacting on businesses and households alike, and rising interest rates are changing many economic calculations for the first time in nearly 15 years. Household budgets will be under huge pressure with many people having to make really difficult choices, so how can businesses navigate this period of uncertainty and protect the jobs on which those families depend?
News about war, industrial disputes, record-setting climate change and a cost-of-living Gordian knot dominates the airwaves. On the back of a global pandemic, navigating this wave of uncertainty with a ’can do’ state of mind feels more important than ever for our country and the business community which powers our economy, and, let’s never forget, ultimately helps to pay for our public services.
The Royal Marine’s world-class reputation has not been established simply by possessing this powerful mindset. Rather it is under-pinned by setting a strategy, adapting the appropriate tactics to achieve that goal and ensuring that adequate training has been done to have an outsized chance of success, an approach which has much to commend it to a wider audience.
It is of course imperative to acknowledge the series of significant challenges facing policy makers at this time, which can stymie more strategic long-term planning.
Equally, it also important to provide some balance to the all too frequent headlines which may well follow the old adage of ‘bad news sells’ in order to achieve ‘clicks’ and sales in an ever competitive media marketplace, and set out why an opportunistic state of mind should be achievable.
The theme of ‘backing ourselves’ came across loud and clear during the Commonwealth Games from those who had pushed to bring it to Birmingham, and its undoubted success – which certainly wasn’t a pre-ordained given – should serve as a great example of the potential returns to be gained from maintaining an ambitious approach, whatever challenges present themselves.
To support such an attitude, we should recognise that the UK has many significant in-built factors that work in favour of the country and our businesses, and which can sometimes be overlooked or taken for granted. This list is long, but a few examples could include:
- The simple fact that English is the most widely spoken language in the world, and certainly the language of choice for business.
- Greenwich Mean Time’s position as the optimum time zone for conducting business with both the East and West. This underpins London’s position as a key global financial centre, which can do business with Tokyo at the start of the day and LA at the end, and reinforces the UK’s reputation as a world leader in business services.
- Our ‘rule of law’, dating back to Magna Carta in 1215, which provides a renowned and attractive legal system.
- Stepping back from current political machinations, our political system is seen as stable and robust - it is, after all, thankfully nearly 400 years since blood was spilled en masse on the British mainland during the Civil War- and we remain a bastion of democracy in the world, backed up by such factors as our membership of the UN Security Council and NATO.
- While much remains to be done on matters of equality and diversity in the UK, long strides have been made in many areas and the rate of constructive change is setting an example that many other countries are seeking to follow. One recent instance was the fervour that gripped the nation and matched anything the England’s men’s team could generate as the Lionesses finally brought football home with their victory in the UEFA Women’s Championship.
- The inherently British sense of fair play, which, while admired and respected elsewhere is probably something we take for granted ourselves. Does anything demonstrate this better than the game of cricket, where you can play for five straight days and still end in a draw, all interspersed of course by breaks for lunch and tea?
- The Union Jack, which today serves as much as a powerful global brand as a flag, and adorns clothing and other products around the world as a symbol British quirkiness and quality.
- Our world-class academic institutions, which attract and educate the finest brains from all over the world.
- Finally, one can look at our history and wider cultural offering. These can seem trite, but in the past three months alone events such as the Platinum Jubilee, Glastonbury and of course the Commonwealth Games have all demonstrated that we know how to welcome the world, and that the world very much wants to visit our shores and experience all we have to offer.
These examples may seem like ‘givens’ but should not be taken for granted, as they all help to underpin the appeal of the UK around the world, as evidenced by the top-ranking consultancy firm EYs recent ‘attractiveness survey’ which ranked the UK as the most attractive destination in Europe for foreign investment in 2021, ahead of both France and Germany.
Ozzy shows the way
The sight of Ozzy Osbourne rising out of the stage to close the 2022 Commonwealth Games, as the Black Sabbath staple ‘Iron Man’ rang out across the stadium and was beamed to a TV audience of millions around the world, was a timely example of why backing ourselves – as individuals and as the collective UK - is indeed the right state of mind to adopt as we look to the future.
While Ozzy might not be what one would consider to be Royal Marine material, or a candidate to be sent in to boost the morale of the troops, that was exactly the impact that his surprise appearance had on those who were watching.
The look of pure joy on his face as he uttered ‘Birmingham Forever’ to the crowd, and hinted that he was as surprised as anybody to be appearing after a series of recent medical issues, underlined how anything can be achieved if you start with that right state of mind and then build a plan around that, as we will explore next week.
This article first appeared in the Express & Star newspaper on 16th August, 2022