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8 March, 2012 - 23:00 By News Desk

UK must stay open to foreign talent

Simon Walker speaking at the Deyton Bell Transatlantic Business Forum. Photograph © Alan Bennett : Alan Bennett/Media Imaging Solutions

IoD director general Simon Walker warned a Cambridge trade summit that the UK faces a potential economic backlash if it slams the doors on cultural diversity.

He told delegates at Deyton Bell’s Transatlantic Business Forum that Britain needs to “stay open” to stay ahead. He said it was in “real danger of squandering a world lead” and “losing the intellectual might we had” by eschewing the melting pot model exemplified by America.

As a Stanford University alumnus and head of the Institute of Directors in the UK, Walker is ideally placed to see what works for the economies on either side of the Atlantic.

He said: “There’s a real danger of squandering a world lead in major sectors if we block students from coming into this country and not allow them to work after gaining their degrees; if we make it difficult or expensive for foreign people to come here. London, with 30 per cent of its population culturally diverse is the example that needs to be followed.”

Walker, who was previously chief executive of the British Venture Capital Association, a director at Reuters and communications secretary to The Queen, said companies seeking to grow globally would ignore the US at their peril.

“It might be fashionable to look to the East but don’t underestimate the importance of the US and transatlantic links,” he said.

He understood why trade chiefs got excited about trade with the BRIC countries but the US remained the world’s largest economy and Britain’s biggest trade partner. There was no doubt China and certain other emerging nations were reshaping global economics “but I don’t believe the US is in decline.

“I am continually amazed at the way they bounce back from crises. The US, through the Central Bank, sorted out its banking crisis much quicker that Europe. The key economic risks are no longer made in America – they are made in Europe.”

America was also harnessing cleaner and cheaper energy and was “on the road to energy independence,” Walker said. He added the caveat that the US was a tough, highly competitive marketplace but one worth fighting to conquer. He recalled his time at Reuters when a fledgling Bloomberg came along to capture market share and Reuters took the decision to move its HQ from London to New York.

Major and highly successful brands such as HSBC and Tesco had, in some respects, endured less successful forays into the American market.

Deyton Bell’s second annual Transatlantic Business Forum, for which Business Weekly was again media partner, paraded opportunities for trade in three major States – North Dakota, Pittsburgh and Indiana – and outlined the help available from the US Embassy in London and UK Trade & Industry in the US.

Martin Garratt, CEO of the new Cambridge Cleantech membership organisation said he was keen to explore joint events with American colleagues.

Harriet Fear, who heads up life sciences member organisation One Nucleus in Cambridge, explained the benefits of links with four major US partners – MassBio and MassMedic on the East Coast and BayBIO and BIOCOM on the West.

Prof Terry Mughan, professor of international management at Anglia Ruskin University’s Lord Ashcroft Business School, spoke about new trends in international business and demonstrated the increasing role of relationships in business analytics. Creating and maintaining social networks was a focused and powerful way of gaining market intelligence and making key contacts, he said.

Sarah Black, international commercial director for HSBC, offered a roadmap through the financial minefield of US trade and the do’s and don’ts of trying to penetrate American markets were brilliantly showcased by lawyers Graeme Menzies of Mills & Reeve, Bill Sellay of Robinson & Cole and Gary Hanson of BDO, the international firm of accountants.

Two Cambridge companies that had successfully penetrated the US presented case studies. Mobile billing and analytics company Bango continue to do well in the States, as Martin Harris, its SVP Strategic Accounts explained.

And Julie Deane gave a scintillating cameo on how, from her Cambridgeshire kitchen and with £600 of her own cash, she has taken Cambridge Satchel Company to £1.5m a month sales in the UK, $400,000 US sales in February and eight windows in Bloomingdales.

Business Weekly chief executive, Tony Quested, argued that there needed to be far closer dialogue between potential partners in Cambridge and the US. “We talk about a special relationship but we are not even close to being close,” he argued.

“America has scale; we do not. But the Cambridge technology cluster is about niche players in highly specialised segments.

“Of course the HPs, Oracles and IBMs will hoover up acquisitions here because they can acquire brainpower and global growth at a stroke relatively cheaply but that strategy doesn’t necessarily bring intimacy.

“Key influencers on both sides of the Atlantic need to lose their obsession with fiscal capital and start realising the long-term power of intellectual capital – an area in which Cambridge excels.”

*Other articles generated from the presentations will be published by Business Weekly in the coming few days.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Simon Walker speaking at the Deyton Bell Transatlantic Business Forum. Photograph © Alan Bennett : Alan Bennett/Media Imaging Solutions

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