Sam Weller, chairman of GCP's international relations forum
Sam Weller formerly head of Kodak’s European Research Laboratories in Cambridge, is now championing Greater Cambridge to the world through GCP’s International Relations Forum of which he is chairman.
This group brings together senior representatives from key organisations engaged in promoting Greater Cambridge to investors and emerging trade development. The aim is to develop a strategy and implement an action plan targeted at increasing investment in the Greater Cambridge area.
Members include Cambridge University, Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, Cambridge Network, ERBI, The Technology Partnership and EEIDB among others. The District Councils are also linked into the Forum via the County Council’s Inward Investment Officer.
1. What is your role at GCP?Championing Greater Cambridge to the world through the International Relations Forum of which I am Chairman. This group brings together senior representatives from key organisations who are engaged in promoting Greater Cambridge to investors and encouraging trade development. Our aim is to develop a strategy and implement an action plan targeted at increasing investment in the Greater Cambridge area. Members include Cambridge University, Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, Cambridge Network, ERBI, The Technology Partnership and EEIDB among others. The District Councils are also linked into the Forum via the County Council’s Inward Investment Officer.
2. What successes can you point to thus far for yourself and GCP in recent times?Firstly we have brought together a truly impressive range of senior people from key organisations on a regular basis to improve the areas standing nationally and internationally in a coordinated way.
Secondly we have developed a range of marketing material for ambassadors to use here or take abroad. The material provides hard data on the unique selling propositions (USPs) of Greater Cambridge and also enables a joined-up approach to inward investment across the many partner organisations who promote our area. The marketing material, which is available for any business to use, is in the International section of the GCP website at www.gcp.uk.net/international.php and includes presentations, fact sheets, and other information to help ‘sell’ the area, and to help would-be investors gain access to information that might not be so accessible from further afield.
Thirdly we have compiled a “Top 100” list of companies critical to the future success of the area, especially international ones, so that we can visit them, understand their issues and focus on retaining and developing these companies, rather than losing them to other locations.
3. Have you found it difficult to adjust from your corporate role at Kodak?No - not at all. I’m still interacting with many of the same companies and organisations from my time at Kodak. As a newcomer to Greater Cambridge, it was essential to participate in a great deal of networking to maximise our corporate value and our contribution to the area. The relationships that I formed then have been invaluable in my current role.4. With the Kodak venture in Cambridge having been aborted, does that signal a conflict with the messages you are disseminating now?No. The time that Kodak had its European Research Laboratories located in Cambridge was a successful period of open innovation which is one of the strengths of this region. Difficulties in certain business areas required a consolidation of research activities in one place.
Having overseen the relocation to Cambridge and my knowledge of the workings of a large, multinational company puts me in an ideal position to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Greater Cambridge area for attracting future inward investors and helping to retain key companies in the area.
5. What do you regard as the strengths of Greater Cambridge in attracting overseas business and investment?With 5 times more R and D jobs than the UK average and around 1,400 hi-tech firms employing nearly 50,000 people, we believe Greater Cambridge is Europe’s Innovation Capital.Clearly the worldwide reputation of the University of Cambridge and Addenbrookes Hospital are also key factors. Add to that the range of quality science parks, the active venture capital (VC) environment and sector networking opportunities and it’s a very compelling case for inward investment.
6. Have you identified any areas which could be regarded as weak points?One factor for concern is complacency. Greater Cambridge is competing in a global marketplace for inward investment, both here in the UK and internationally. We must all sing from the same hymn sheet and present a joined up approach to those interested in establishing their business here. This is a major focus for the GCP. Naturally, we have to also minimise the impact of expensive housing, poor transport infrastructure and a scarcity of adequate hotels & conference facilities.
7. Leading on from that, to what extent does the existing infrastructure help or hinder your task?Companies who consider relocating to this region make exploratory visits and talk to their peers in companies already here. Some of the negative points related to infrastructure or relocating families can be a hindrance but the GCP works with partners to present a total package, highlighting business opportunities and quality of life.
8. If you could wave a magic wand, what improvements would you implement to boost the proposition of selling Greater Cambridge to the world?I’d like to see the Greater Cambridge proposition promoted in meetings around the world by companies and organisations already based here. They can include strong messages about the technology cluster, positive business support environment, and high quality of life by using the extensive materials produced by the GCP. They have the opportunity to be very effective ambassadors for our area.
I’d also like to convince Government that because Greater Cambridge disproportionately contributes positively to the UK’s growth, this should lead to improved public investment for the area – we have an annual economy worth over £12 billion. Also, a better understanding of the incumbent international companies and their drivers & concerns through a customer care programme to keep them here.
9. Does this region inflate its innovation proposition? Definitely not. Cambridge has the highest innovation rate of any city in the UK and the area has been awarded two European ‘Labels of Excellence’ for innovation and support for hi-tech start-ups. Over 80 members of the University of Cambridge have become Nobel Laureates for their contribution to science and technology – more than any other university in the world. That’s not just words, it’s fact, and we must continually reinforce this message globally. The Cambridge Phenomenon that has been successful in the past is being copied and we need to ensure that we remain one step ahead.10. Could it be argued that overseas investment in Greater Cambridge actually mitigates against the technology cluster in the long term. given the number of large, especially US companies that seem to raid our best technology and then strip out the assets?Greater Cambridge competes globally and as part of the national UK economy, is open to international trade, investment and company business deals. Whilst this can lead to company takeovers and asset stripping, it also lends itself to direct gains such as inward investment of new companies and investment into existing companies in the area providing overall growth.