Vibrant economy

We can win at Brexit – but together, not alone

We caught up with Vibrant Economy Commissioner, Will Butler-Adams to hear his views on how the government can help build a vibrant future for the UK.

The future is uncertain for the UK, but also exciting. In your opinion, where do the opportunities lie and how can the new government capitalise on them?

No doubt we will be leaving the EU. A pessimist would suggest we will be on an isolated island in a deep sea. But there’s another way of looking at it. We’ve spent the last 50 years chumming up to Europe and we’ve built a great relationship with them. This gives us an opportunity to get friendly with the rest of the world. We have a fantastic historic relationship with the Commonwealth. The ability to be in London one day, the next in Beijing and the next to hop over to Sydney is completely in our reach. So we need to think about the global opportunities for the UK to trade.

We have 60 million people in the UK and 8 billion people – and growing – in the world. Who in their right mind is going to be trading with less than 1% of the opportunity? Nobody. This is an exciting opportunity to be more international, be more cosmopolitan, and engage on a global platform.

Have you seen first-hand collaboration deliver innovation? Where and how?

Collaboration is key. Even if you’re a big player, and certainly if you’re a small one, you don’t have the means to have the expertise and knowledge to do everything.

In our experience we spent the last 4 years with Williams, taking the tech out of their F1 cars. It sounded simple. If they can make a car go from 0-60 in 0 seconds and whizz around tracks around the world, then of course putting a little motor into a bike should be easy.

Of course it isn’t! It’s incredibly difficult. It’s been an enormous investment, with huge thinking from good minds, but we’ve taken that innovation out of an F1 car and into a bicycle. It’s supercool and nothing like it exists in the world, and it should hopefully be whizzing around cities, and up hills in cities pretty soon. It’s a great concept.

Not only has this collaboration delivered in terms of gaining the tech shared from another sector, but we gain afterwards, as you absorb a lot of that expertise and knowledge. You as a business benefit. Not only have we benefitted from Williams, but Williams have benefitted from us. So collaboration for innovation, particularly in the global world we live is going to be vital. It reinforces this idea that we, post-Brexit, pre-Brexit, whatever, need to be thinking globally and working collaboratively across the world to deliver solutions to the world’s and society’s problems.

What in your opinion are the essential ingredients for a vibrant economy in the UK?

The principal challenge for delivering a vibrant economy is to realise the role that business has in society. The world of work today is so complicated that you can’t expect a school careers adviser to be able to tell children what work opportunities there are. In the old days, you had five choices and you decided which one you went into and that was that. The world isn’t like that anymore. It is far too fast moving – how are children in schools going to know what is out there? Businesses need to go into schools and tell them what the opportunities are, tell them about their jobs, engage with them. In 2 and 3 years, new jobs will exist that didn’t even exist before. But businesses can help by engaging in schools, and working with universities to stimulate innovation.

The vibrant economy will come from all elements of society, with business being a large part of it. We can’t have silos with ‘this is my job and this is what I do and this is your job and this is what you do”. Everything is interconnected. We in business need to play our part to help this society to flourish. If we do that, the businesses that recognise our interconnectedness will be the ones that flourish; that will be what delivers a vibrant economy.

Your business, Brompton Bikes is about helping people move in modern cities. In your opinion, what are some key things the government can do to support this?

We have a global problem where, in a relatively short time, over half the world will live in a city. That is a transformation beyond anyone’s expectation over the last 50 years.

And that’s fine. It works to a degree. We have created a society where people live in very small flats because it’s so expensive to buy anything that is bigger than a shoebox, where people go to work day in day out by scuttling down a hole in the ground to a fairly grim, morose place or sitting in a car in a traffic jam going nowhere.

This is causing mental health problems and obesity problems; it’s causing air pollution. We have created somehow a society that doesn’t work. The solution has to be a collaborative approach. We have to come together and say “this is no good; what can we do to make it better?”

At Brompton, we want to come up with cool solutions and cool innovative products that work, that fit into urban living, that make moving around more enjoyable and more fun. But we can’t do it on our own. We need cities to get behind it and improve infrastructure. We need companies to encourage their staff to get on a bike. As with everything else, vibrant economy isn’t about “me, me, me”. It’s about working together, thinking about the bigger picture, to deliver commercial success.

Will Butler-Adams in the CEO of Brompton Bicycle and co-chair of the Vibrant Economy Commission.

You can find him on twitter here