Top Track 250 leaders agree that ambition and integrity are key to unlocking our potential.
When eight leaders from this year’s Top Track 250 companies were asked where Britain can be world-beating, they set out a clear blueprint that will surprise some and inspire many others, countering much of the gloom that seems to dominate the news.
Running firms that employ a total of 18,000 people and trade in more than 100 countries, the group of directors all agreed that Britain should think globally, build on its reputation as an innovative and entrepreneurial nation, and become brilliant at developing talented people.
From pioneering electric engines for high-performance vehicles (Aston Martin, No 9) to engineering ways to upgrade the backbone of broadband networks to 10GB on traditional copper cables (Technetix, No 245), the Top Track 250 companies are already engaged in a wide range of innovative activities.
Paul Broadhurst, founder and chief executive of telecoms network equipment specialist Technetix, said successful innovation has its rewards. “The innovation we deliver gives our customers investment savings at up to 100 times,” he said.
Steve Byrne, chief executive of holiday specialist Travel Counsellors (No 125), is embedding a culture of innovation within the firm, setting up teams focused on finding ways to keep staff engaged and customers happy. He has deployed a social media platform so employees can submit and vote on new ideas, noting that: “Nothing is sacrosanct.”
Constant innovation should be complemented by quality manufacturing. Nikki Rimmington, director of corporate finance and planning at Aston Martin, said a well-funded industrial strategy could help British manufacturing remain world-class. She saw opportunities for bespoke and quality products to be made in Britain that would have global appeal. “Our ability to be agile will be key.”
The business leaders agreed the country could better show the world where it already excels, talking up “Brand Britain”. The resulting premium on British-made products could offset tariff increases following Britain’s departure from the European single market.
Berry Bros & Rudd (No 149), the wine and spirits merchant founded in 1698, has more stories to tell than most. Lizzy Rudd, its deputy chairman, said: “We have a rich history as a company and are lucky to have that, but every single start-up, if its service or product is made here, has that ‘Brand Britain’ to use as well.”
Madeleine Musselwhite, chief financial officer of CH&Co Group (No 124), the food service business that holds a Royal Warrant to provide catering to the Queen, says this storytelling heritage also attracts people to the UK.
VisitBritain reported that a record 19.1m overseas visitors came to the UK in the first half of 2017, up 9% on the same period in 2016 before the EU referendum. The group agreed Britain needs to maintain an open, welcoming approach at its borders.
Broadhurst at Technetix added: “We have to be careful about this fortress idea, especially with regard to talent. There are 40% fewer engineers graduating in electronics in the UK than 10 years ago. Barring people with these skills coming here is small-minded and not British.”
Instead, the business leaders felt Britain had to rediscover its ambition and instil a can-do attitude. Businesses could also do more to inspire young people at school, through engaging them with stories of entrepreneurship and engineering prowess.
And government’s role? Keep things simple and ensure the physical and digital infrastructure is in place to help business succeed internationally.
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.