23 February 2018 | By Simon Anderson Community

Life after Brexit: the view from a growing business

Geo’s Simon Anderson offers his vision of an enterprise economy post Brexit

Right now the UK is consumed by uncertainty about our future trading relationship with the EU, what it means for access to skills and influence over regulation. But having a vision for the UK post Brexit is equally – if not more – important. 

As former Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy recently said: “to get above the Brexit issue and set out a vision for what a successful Britain looks like... is not all about complex political negotiations; it’s about hard work, education, entrepreneurship, competing, being confident.” People will respond to that vision, as will investors both in and outside the UK, he said.

I agree. As a sailor, I understand the importance of knowing your destination in order to pilot your vessel through changing tides, winds and reefs in the way. And this informs my view of what life after Brexit should be.

An enterprise economy

The UK has always been good at enterprise: taking the initiative, inventing things, creating world leading industries. Our business, geo, is classified as an “SME”, a small to medium enterprise, but size is actually not what’s important – it’s the fact we are an enterprise

My vision for life after Brexit is to enhance, extend and promote the importance of “enterprise”: 

  • Enhance by equating “enterprise” with “growth business”;
  • Extend the use of the term to cover any growth business – it’s about attitude and drive, not size;
  • And promote an “enterprise economy” as the vision of Britain post Brexit.

And I believe there are five “pillars” to creating an enterprise economy:

  1. SMEs are rarely regarded as mainstream, but it’s time we are seen as the leaders that we are. An enterprise role should be established as a board level position, with responsibility for encouraging enterprise and putting in place the means to do so in the organisation.
    And to hammer home the importance of enterprise, shouldn’t it start at the very top with the Business Secretary getting a name change – the Secretary of State for Business Enterprise, Energy and Industrial Strategy? Then the same approach could be reflected on councils, the boards of LEPs, business groups, and so on.
  2. Set business curriculums in schools with qualifications that steer students into enterprise businesses, or which help them secure seed investment. Designate Business Universities that offer graduate business qualifications. My experience working with Founders4Schools, a charity connecting schools with local business leaders, has influenced my thinking, but it really hit home when a friend’s daughter asked if she should present her parents with a business plan for setting up her own business as an alternative to university. She is 14.
  3. Enhance the number and type of business incubators: many younger professionals like working in creative, shared spaces or in Enterprise Hubs. Success breeds success.
  4. Create a standard set of Enterprise Business Practices that streamline the ability of enterprise businesses to work with other, often established, businesses. This might include payment on receipt as standard or other set contractual terms. In my experience, the bigger the customer, the harder it is to win contracts and to get paid, constraining growth while adding considerable risk.
  5. Boost enterprise funding building on the many current schemes that help businesses reach profitability. Challenge the reliance on Venture capital: theirs isn’t the only option. It didn’t suit us at geo and it doesn’t suit every enterprise business.

In conclusion

My vision of the UK post Brexit, and arguably an underpinning rationale for the negotiations, is to build an Enterprise Economy that rivals Silicon Valley and becomes an entrepreneurial gateway to Europe.

As Sir Terry Leahy suggested, people and investors would respond to it. It could address the UK’s productivity issue by providing the encouragement for established businesses, large and small, to become enterprise businesses.

I have really enjoyed and am extremely proud of setting up geo with my business partner and growing it into a thriving medium sized business employing over 70 people directly with many more in our supply chain. This should be part of our national focus. This is real growth. It is what many people in the UK aspire to.

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