7th Feb 2017
Prime Minister Theresa May is preparing to get Brexit negotiations under way after MPs overwhelmingly backed the Government’s Article 50 bill for triggering the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU).
Since the House of Commons vote, the Government has published a White Paper that sets out its Brexit plans, which include withdrawing from the single market and seeking a new customs arrangement and a free trade agreement with the EU. But the UK’s ex-EU ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers warned that Brexit talks will be on a “humongous scale” involving “difficult trade-offs”.
With the Government getting the green light to press ahead with leaving the EU, but with huge uncertainty on what it will mean for trade, Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea believes that UK businesses are faced with unprecedented instability.
Whatever a post-Brexit world looks like, Lord Bilimoria – who is the Indian-born founder of Cobra Beer as well as Chancellor of Birmingham University and independent Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords – says boardrooms must focus on diversity and expanding their horizons to secure their businesses’ prospects on a global stage, in order to flourish in an ever-more connected world.
“Now is the time to go the extra mile – and we need to think globally more than ever before,” he urges. “It’s very important we remain a gateway to the EU for investment from countries such as India – all this talk of a Hard Brexit is nonsense. A number of countries like India see the UK as the gateway to Europe – we cannot lose that perception of being part of this huge market.”
He says investing in creativity and innovation holds the key to planning for the longer term, and that UK companies should be “going full steam ahead” rather than letting the uncertainty surrounding Brexit prevent them from executing their business strategies. “Always take the initiative and always be creative,” he advises. “It’s the same advice my father gave me when I was about to take up my first job in an accounting practice and it’s the best advice I’ve ever been given.”
Boardrooms, adds Lord Bilimoria, need to show guts in leading their organisations in unprecedented and challenging times. “You must not run away from reality, but look ahead and never give up – there are opportunities in every crisis,” he advises.
Adapt or die
It’s something that Lord Bilimoria has learnt from personal experience. His own Cobra beer business, which he founded in 1989 with a bank overdraft and a £20,000 debt, has survived three existential crises. The company has since grown into a global business as part of a joint venture with Molson Coors, the third-largest brewer in the world.
“I have this mantra that we must adapt or die,” he says. “Looking back on my career at Cobra, there are several instances when, if we had not adapted to the situation, or the crisis, we would have died.”
According to Lord Bilimoria, there are three things that organisations need to focus on to plan for long-term survival: having a strong brand; building a workforce that’s highly capable, loyal and adaptable; and doing things with integrity and with the right values.
“The most important thing is values,” he emphasises – especially with Brexit looming. “However hard times are – and they are going to get bad – we are just in the foothills. Don’t put your head in the sand.”
Lord Bilimoria will be one of the speakers at The Institute of Customer Service Annual Conference, which takes place on 7 March 2017 at the London Hilton On Park Lane.