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British Chambers of Commerce Conference 2015: A Business Plan for Britain

London Chamber of Commerce and Industry kindly invited some of our younger students to attend the British Chambers Of Commerce Conference held on 10/02/15 in order to help inspire the next generation of business leaders.

Birkbeck’s Future Business Leaders at the British Chamber of Commerce Conference 2015

The School of Business, Economics and Informatics is a proud member of the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI) and has collaborated on a number of mutually beneficial projects. As a result of this relationship, the LCCI kindly extended a rare opportunity to our younger students; to experience the British Chambers of Commerce Conference 2015.

A number of our students demonstrated an interest and those who were able to attend on the day (pictured) were (from left to right); Diouf Ibra, Arisera Tongchaitanawutti, Pranjulaa Singh, Winnie Warner, and Godson Ekpemandu.

Future Business Leaders

As the political battle for Westminster approaches, where better for the British Chambers of Commerce to host their conference and launch their manifesto: “A Business Plan for Britain”, than opposite the Houses of Parliament? With morning media coverage on the 10th February focused on certain banking practices in Switzerland and Greek debt negotiations; it is testament to both the quality of the speaker line-up and the prominence of the British Chambers of Commerce in UK policy development that the audience of journalists, business representatives, entrepreneurs, financiers, and our students, were kept enthralled throughout the day.

Doing Business with the World

The first morning session began with an informed panel session, where Linda Yueh (Chief Business Correspondent, BBC) argued we are witnessing a rise in a global ‘middle class’ and thus British Services may be in a position to increase export market share. Martin Wolf CBE (Chief Economics Commentator, FT) was more reticent and suggested the UK may depend on domestic demand and international finance for longer than he would like. Fellow panellists His Excellency Mr Néstor Osorio (Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and His Excellency Witold Sobków (Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Poland to the Court of St James’s) contributed with tips for businesses looking to export to their relative countries – get good consulants, lawyers and plenty of localised advice – as well as thoughts on Britain’s participation in the EU single market and international trade agreements.

Following this panel session, there was a plea from John Holland-Kaye (Chief Executive, Heathrow Airport) for the audience to support expansion and a smart presentation from Angus Thirlwell (Chief Executive and Co-Founder, Hotel Chocolat) causing the audience to salivate and ruminate in equal measure. Mr Thirlwell believes one of the factors for the company’s success was the use of user-testing in the form of their tasting club, perhaps ringing true for a number of contemporary start-ups.

The first politician to take to the stage was Rt Hon Ed Balls MP (Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer), fresh from a press kicking, surely eager to win back the business vote? Whilst business conferences are not traditionally the ‘home ground’ for Labour politicians, the audience seemed to be in good mood and receptive. Despite a jovial start with plenty of humorous self-referencing quips, the talk was somewhat lacklustre and after main policy statements (such as their commitment for Britain’s role in Europe) the promise to only ‘review’ support for innovation did little to inspire questions from the floor from entrepreneurs and small business owners. Following this speech, Phil Couchman (Chief Executive, UK & Ireland DHL Express) presented a video on his successful, global logistics company.

A Business Plan for Britain

The second morning session was opened by John Longworth (Director General, British Chambers of Commerce) and outlined the confidence, optimism and reach targets required by UK business and government to remain competitive and create wider wealth in society. After a brief delay, Rt Hon David Cameron MP (Prime Minister) took to the stage to deliver his speech and a parody of Neil Kinnock’s in 1983. Besides the political theatre, the promise to ‘Get Britain Lending’ by allocating 75,000 start-up loans through Britain’s Business Bank could whet the appetite of a number of our fantastic entrepreneurial students.

"It can be unsettling to follow your major shareholder on stage" joked António Horta-Osório (Group Chief Executive, Lloyds Banking Group); however this clearly did not unnerve the banker as he methodologically presented his organisation’s strategy for small and medium-sized enterprise (SME). City AM later reported: “Horta-Osório said a comparison website for small firms’ bank accounts will help, and that Lloyds will put £5m into a prize pot to incentivise web developers to create a suitable site”.

The final morning session belonged to Chuka Umunna MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills), who unsurprisingly delivered a technically knowledgeable, competent and reassuring talk built upon the premise: “Continuity wherever possible, change only when needed”. More importantly from the student perspective, he was quick to clean up a spill from Rt Hon Ed Balls MP, by restating his colleague’s earlier opinion on the ability of Higher Education to provide skilled employees in a more positive, balanced manner.

Inspiring the Young

The decision to host a specific lunch for younger invited guests, like our professional students, was interesting. Whilst possibly missing out on some wider networking, the opportunity to hear from Fraser Doherty MBE (founder, SuperJam) was inspiring and the 26 year old entrepreneur was an engaging public speaker of the new generation. Fraser was to join a panel later in the afternoon session thus only had the opportunity to answer deftly and politely one question regarding his first year’s profit!

Britain’s Business Future

The afternoon launched into action with Rt Hon Vince Cable MP (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills) and the flamboyant Justin Urquhart Stewart (Co-Founder, Seven Investment Management) engaging in good-humoured debate over issues like late payments, regulation of the digital Business Bank and tax reform. Resulting in few resolute outcomes, as one might expect, a challenge was instead turned to the audience and British Chambers of Commerce specifically, to provide an alternative model to effectively reform business rates.

Talent was next on the agenda with Octavius Black (Chief Executive, Mind Gym) outlining academic research from Professor Amy Wrzesniewski amongst others to support his theories. Afterwards, the second panel discussion took place between Nick Boles MP (Minister of State for Skills and Equalities), Margaret Mountford (Chair, Bright Ideas Trust), Kathryn Parsons (Co-CEO and Co-Founder, Decoded), Fraser Doherty MBE, Penny Power (Founder, Digital Youth Academy) and Jules Quinn (Founder the TeaShed). What should have been an excellent platform for young, talented, entrepreneurial people to discuss their part in the digital economy and beyond was unfortunately shortened by regurgitated attacks on the standard of education in the UK. Considering one of our students who attended is also concurrently an Ambassador for the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur Challenge, and many others have seized the opportunities for workshops, events and training this year, we would argue strongly that our campus is an incubator for entrepreneurship, innovation, technical ability and business acumen.

Rt Hon George Osborne MP (Chancellor of the Exchequer) was unable to attend due to the other pressing obligations of his post, however he did pre-record a message to reinforce the General Election ambitions of the Conservative party. Danny Longbottom (Managing Director, UK SME, BT Business) urged the audience to go digital, “you have to keep up, you have to embrace tech”, a talk not lost on our FdSc Information Technology student, Godson Ekpemandu, who said:

“It was a great experience at the conference. I had the opportunity to listen to various leaders of the political and business sectors in Great Britain on the journey so far and their future plans with respect to the growth and stability of the British economy. It was so educative and inspiring”.

Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP (Deputy Prime Minister) used his time on stage to discuss issues women may face in business or in returning to employment. In fact, he stated he would like one million more women to be in work by 2020 than today. However the audience did not seem stirred by Mr Clegg’s speech and a large room of spectators stalled for some time in finding a question for the Deputy PM. Perhaps thoughts were returning to Justin Urquhart Stewart, who had earlier cheekily asked Mr Cable what he might be doing after May?

Following a much needed coffee break, our students were treated to a political heavyweight battle on stage between Rt Hon William Hague MP (First Secretary of state and Leader of the House of Commons), Ian Paisley MP, John Swinney MSP and Graham Allen MP. With attention on devolution and decentralisation, the economics students in our contingent saw first-hand the complicated relationship between emotion and policy.

The Business of Winning

To end a day of informative talks, the British Chambers of Commerce invited to the stage Sir Clive Woodward OBE (Rugby World Cup winning Head Coach, Team GB Director of Sport for London 2012 and Founder, Captured Software Ltd). Sir Clive outlined his theory and practice in an inspiring talk titled ‘DNA of a Champion’, demonstrating a strong grasp of the importance of informatics in sport, business and society. The rapturous applause demonstrated the audience’s pleasure at hearing from such an astute professional and all our students were suitably impressed.

Some had to leave for their 6pm evening classes, and some stayed to enjoy the networking with Westminster in the backdrop. Unsuprisingly, as one tends to at these occasions, Arisera Tongchaitanawutti (BSc Financial Economics) bumped into a fellow Birkbeckian postgraduate student attending in a different work-related capacity. Arisera said:

“I thought that the day was really inspiring and eye-opening - and I think it’s a great thing that young people were included in this event. At Birkbeck, it’s really great to see that the university invests in a focus on enterprise and business”.

Diouf Ibra (BSc Financial Economics) added:

"I found the conference very enjoyable and informative, it has been an amazing opportunity to see live on stage the leaders of today channelling us through the challenges we are likely to face on the highway to success. This shows that at Birkbeck, the networking opportunities go just beyond the classmates".

The School of Business, Economics and Informatics (BEI) was tweeting live from the conference and sends out regular updates for upcoming events: Please follow @BirkbeckBEI

We are always keen to discuss collaborative projects, ranging from short-term low-commitment, to long-term deep commitment: Please contact Matthew Jayes


The Business Engagement Team would like to thank the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the British Chambers of Commerce for this opportunity. We would also like to thank our students, who represented Birkbeck and themselves meticulously as one would expect from future business leaders.