Business has an important role to play in how Britain is perceived by the world.
As we prepare to leave the EU, Britain finds itself at a crossroads, with a choice to make about how it is viewed by the rest of world. Do we become a country in decline, resting on past achievements, increasingly inward-looking and protectionist? Or can we rediscover our sense of purpose, ready to become even more open to the world, able to attract talented people to live and work here, and to export our innovative, commercial and creative thinking beyond our nearest neighbours?
Evidence that the latter is possible is shown in what our leading mid-market private companies are achieving. The Top Track 250 recognised on this year’s league table are not sitting on their hands, waiting for clarity from our politicians; they are grabbing opportunities that exist in the UK and overseas. The results are clear: as wider economic growth slows, these dynamic companies’ combined profits are up 34% to £5.4bn in their latest year, and their workforces have increased by 10% to 384,200 people.
Lessons to be learnt from Top Track 250 businesses
They are also looking to the future. Typically more agile and bold in their decision-making than their larger peers, these businesses are investing today’s profits in research and innovations that will become the services and products of tomorrow. They are equipping employees with the skills and working practices to ensure they will be able to deliver them.
For instance, Rotherham-based AESSEAL (No 180) has reinvested to develop its patented technology. While it may not be a household name, it is the world’s fourth-largest maker of mechanical seals, used in rotating machines involved in the manufacture of fluids, producing anything from chocolate to oil.
It makes 90% of its products in Britain, mainly from two modern factories in the Yorkshire town where it is based. Its chief executive and owner, Chris Rea, is among those seizing opportunities. “The decline in sterling we’ve seen gives us a more competitive currency, similar to the benefit Germany got by swapping the deutschmark for the euro,” he said.
Fostering a reputation as an innovator
Businesses also see the value of working collectively. Many, like pharmaceuticals maker Almac (No 34), are already collaborating with universities and research institutes to help bring new scientific ideas to market.
The work of such firms illustrates what post-Brexit Britain could become known for: developing technology to solve real challenges; high-tech manufacturing; and world-class services. Coupled with our time zone, language, legal system and business practices, which have won for us a reputation as a trusted business partner, there are real grounds for optimism. It is a “Brand Britain” we could help foster.
One reality of the Brexit negotiations is that the government will have limited capacity to deal with the pressing challenges faced by local economies and towns, from transport links to skills and business growth. We think companies can take the lead and work with civic society to find solutions.
The importance of such companies, embedded in the society they serve, should not be underestimated. To foster Britain’s reputation as a place for innovation, for being outward-looking and attracting talent from around the world, we need more businesses like those listed in the Top Track 250 to act in this way. Imagine if all businesses rose to the challenge. The power of that collective effort to change our lives for the better and to shape our future place in the world would be phenomenal.
This article first appeared in The Sunday Times' Top Track 250 supplement on 1 October. You can view the full list of Top Track 250 companies online.