The outcome of the EU referendum came as a surprise to many in business. In the time since, UK companies have increasingly come to view the event as a chance to improve and expand.
By Dan Matthews
The terms of Brexit remain uncertain, so business leaders are taking a fresh look at their strategies and are introducing measures to increase productivity and resilience, attract and retain talent, and spread the word about what they do on a truly global stage.
Regardless of the outcome of the talks in Brussels, businesses will need to adapt during at least 18 months of ambiguity. Questions hanging over trade deals and access to skills are being answered with a more bullish approach to international trade, as well as greater investment in home-grown recruits.
Many boards have rewritten business plans and ‘agile’ has become the new watchword as firms capitalise on the good and swerve the bad. Start-ups, growing businesses and institutions alike are building flexible structures that can bend, but not break, in the wind.
This is perhaps one reason why the UK economy continues to hold up in the face of uncertainty. In the 12 months after the vote in June 2016, the economy grew by 1.7% and the Bank of England anticipates roughly the same figure for 2017.
There are other reasons to be cheerful: London remains one of the world’s pre-eminent financial centres, the jobless rate is low and employment is at its highest level since records began. Sectors including retail, manufacturing, financial services, technology and training are, by and large, standing firm.
Even sterling’s exchange rate presents an opportunity for thousands of businesses by driving up demand for British-made goods and encouraging overseas tourism. Meanwhile, the extra expense of sourcing goods, materials and labour from abroad has prompted some production capacity to return home, including within industries such as cotton weaving that were thought to have left UK shores for good.
UK companies have carried on with business as normal, but the Brexit effect has prompted a wholesale revaluation. Organisations are reviewing supply chains and weighing up whether shorter, low-risk networks make more sense in the current climate.
Some experts think Brexit may even cure the UK’s long-running productivity problem, which they say has been fuelled by cheap labour. Investment in people and processes should make business a lot more efficient.
Now, in the middle of the journey, businesses have the opportunity to embrace this period of change and turn it to their advantage, emerging smarter, leaner and more agile, ready to show the world what the country has to offer as a trading nation in the post-Brexit climate.