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The biggest issues facing the UK today, and how business can solve them

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Our first Dynamic Roundtables brought together London leaders to create change – and we want your thoughts too

I know that, writing here, I am writing to a business audience. But you’re all big boys and girls, so there’s no point trying to sweeten a bitter truth for all of us who count ourselves part of the London business community: those who don’t see themselves as “businesspeople” generally loathe “the business world”.

They see business and “businesspeople” as maniacally self-interested, profiteering at any opportunity – regardless of which skull they crush on the way up – and largely at the root of most of the overwhelming branches of problems the UK faces today.

In a few cases, this is fair enough.

But a huge number of the entrepreneurs, innovators and business leaders I hear from genuinely want to do some good in the world, and are looking for ways to re-orientate their business agenda to do so – as I highlighted in my column earlier this week, citing Martin Sorrell and Richard Branson, among others.

The point of LondonlovesBusiness.com is to become a platform for these people to share their insights and ideas with the public and private sectors, and to become the catalyst for positive action. We will support London business leaders who want to overcome the greatest problems the UK faces today to help further innovation, drive growth, and create opportunity for all who work and live in Britain.

Which is why on Tuesday we launched the first in our series of LondonlovesBusiness.com Dynamic Roundtables, hosted by the BBC’s Declan Curry and me, and bringing together some of London’s most exciting entrepreneurs and business leaders (full guest-list below) to tackle the plethora of issues around Talent & Skills, and around Business Growth & Finance.

This video introduces some of our guests and their insights into the key issues faced in these areas:

It was always going to be thrilling to get some of the most innovative and experienced business brains in London round the table to talk about some of the most pressing problems faced by the UK today. But I never could have dreamed for the amount of passion that poured out of our guests; for the volcanoes of ideas and practical solutions; for the enthusiasm that radiated from all attendees.

We will be publishing a full report on the key ideas to come out of the roundtable in the coming weeks. But here are a few highlights to keep you going until then – and we’d love to hear you thoughts too (more on this below).

Talent & Skills

Does London have the talent pool to produce the next generation of business leaders? How should skills gaps in key industry sectors be addressed? Are employers right to still be concerned about the basic literacy skills of our graduates? Tackling youth unemployment: what will really work? How can businesses attract and retain the talent they need to stay competitive?

Why aren’t politicians listening to what the business world needs and wants? Many in the group felt that the education system in the UK is poorly aligned with the needs of industry. Hugh Chappell and Tim Campbell gave first-hand examples of how young people often lack the soft skills needed to enter the working world, and explained why the traditional academic system just doesn’t suit a lot of young people. They gave their support for alternative routes into work.

In fact, there was huge support for apprenticeships, particularly as our business leaders said the university system was producing graduates with wildly unrealistic expectations of salary and role, and often complacent attitudes. Nick Williams explained that many of the grads he interviewed just weren’t “as hungry” for success as non-graduates. Several of our other guests admitted that they recruited from a limited pool, as the sheer volume of applications they received forced them to eliminate those with fewer academic qualifications. Rajeeb Dey said this is why he called HR heads “heads of rejection”, and explained how it led to businesses being stranded with a homogeneous pool of grads.

June Sarpong said that although the “sense of entitlement” among Generation Y and Z was a powerful trait among young entrepreneurs, it’s not necessarily useful if, like most young people, you need the soft skills needed to work for someone else. She advocated a new national agenda to turn “our businesspeople into rockstars”, to fire up the enthusiasm and dedication that all participants around the table valued when recruiting people of any age or experience level. Dr Jelena Manojlovic explained how this message could be engineered by government to really inspire interest in and understanding of the business world.

Yvonne Smyth spoke passionately about how the right job fit “both transforms a life and transforms a business”, while she and others acknowledged that there is a major talent mismatch in the UK today – in other words, the inability to find people with the right skills, despite our high levels of unemployment.

Science, technology, maths and engineering (STEM) roles were particularly hard to fill. The group felt that our “flatter” world should allow companies to recruit the skills they needed to fill these roles from the world over, playing instead to local skills bases to fill other functions, where the person must be physically present in the business.

Finally, all agreed that training and development of staff were the key to unlocking the potential of the leaders of tomorrow. If you invest in staff, they demonstrate loyalty, leadership and progression that can only benefit both the business and their own livelihoods.

Business Growth & Finance

With the economy still unsettled, where will recovery and the next stages of business growth come from? Which industry sectors are flourishing and why? How will growth be financed if lenders are still risk-averse? How can ambitious London businesses access the growth capital they need? London 2020: What are the opportunities of tomorrow you can’t afford to miss?

Private equity is still doing well in London and the UK, explained Marcus Stuttard, but access to venture capital must be improved if we want to see more growth in the UK. Venture capital must be opened up to allow start-ups and entrepreneurs to thrive.

Sam Barnett explained why he went to the US to get seed and VC funding: because the UK is much more risk-averse and UK lenders are typically only willing to invest at second and third-stage funding, once a business is more established. He said the government “don’t make it terribly easy for entrepreneurs to find funding”. Others felt the UK’s risk-averseness towards early-stage companies was a hangover from the dotcom bubble, but Stephen Fear said we must overcome that cautiousness urgently.

Louisa Moger talked about the importance of company structure to facilitate scalability, provoking some debate about how structured start-ups should be. Mike Bokaie said that start-ups may be thinking about formal structures even though they don’t adopt them, as day-to-day cashflow concerns often preoccupied them too much to implement that kind of formality.

Stephen Fear talked passionately about the need for better support and advice for entrepreneurs, calling on government to do much more to reach out to people starting business. The group also felt that more could be done to entice those not yet consider starting a business into seeing it as an option – particularly
women.

Now we want YOUR thoughts too…

We called these roundtables “dynamic” because these discussions are simply the beginning of a wider conversation that we will keep alive and interactive. You’ll be hearing more about how we will get various balls rolling on LondonlovesBusiness.com soon.

But right now, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the questions below and ideas above.

So please share your thoughts with us…

  • Leave a comment below
  • Email sophie [.] hobson [at]londonlovesbusiness [.] com
  • Tweet us @londonlovesbiz using #dynamic

 

A huge thanks to Hays and Growth Accelerator for supporting the LondonlovesBusiness.com Dynamic Roundtables, and to all our guests for their thoughts and time:

Adrian Tripp, CEO – European Business Awards
Amit Pau, Director – Ariadne Capital; Entrepreneur Country
Carol-Ann White, Global HR Director – Fitch
Chris Manton-Jones, Chief Operating Officer – Thunderhead.com
David Petrie, Head of Corporate Finance – ICEAW
Declan Curry, Business journalist – BBC
Dr Jelena Manojlovic, Chairman – Ruukki Group
Frances Hughes, Commercial Director – LondonlovesBusiness.com
Helene Panzarino, Growth Manager – Growth Accelerator at Grant Thornton
Hugh Chappell, Serial Entrepreneur, Advisor & Investor
Jenny Knighting, Business Development Director – LondonlovesBusiness.com
June Sarpong MBE – broadcaster, Women Inspiring Enterprise, DNA Summit
Louisa Moger, Growth Manager – GrowthAccelerator
Marcus Stuttard, Head of UK Primary Markets, Head of AIM – London Stock Exchange
Mark Twum-Ampofo, Partner – Kingston Smith
Martin Jones, Chief Executive – MJ Media
Mike Bokaie, Founder and CEO – Casis Media and LondonlovesBusiness.com
Naomi Heaton, Chief Executive – London Central Portfolio Limited
Nick Williams, Co-Founding Director – International Foreign Exchange
Piers Daniell, Founder and Managing Director – Fluidata
Rajeeb Dey, Founder and CEO – Enternships.com
Sam Barnett, Founder and CEO – Struq
Sophie Hobson, Editor – LondonlovesBusiness.com
Stephen Fear, CEO – Fear Group
Stephen Greene, Chairman – Ed’s Easy Diner
Tim Campbell MBE, Founder and Chairman – Bright Ideas Trust
Tony Goodwin, Chairman and CEO – Antal International
Tony Matharu, Managing Director – Grange Hotels
Yvonne Smyth, Director – Hays

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