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Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors, gives Lord Marshall Memorial

Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors, spoke of his concern at the uncertainty created for business by Brexit and his conviction that more must be done to improve the life-chances of those left behind by globalisation at the Lord Marshall Memorial, held at Birkbeck.

Speaking in the College’s Keynes Library, he invoked the spirit of the influential economist in looking at the future of Britain’s trading relationships with the world, saying that free trade would be best for growth in the medium term, with the City, in particular, thriving because of the UK’s status as an open trading nation.

More broadly, Walker said that “business has to change and adapt to the disrupter economy we now face,” citing taxi drivers and the rapid emergence of Uber as a competitor as an example. While he was aware of businesses which had structural issues and which had failed to adapt, “the vast majority of British businesses are run by thoroughly decent, good people,” he said.

His current role as Director General of the Institute of Directors, including his drive to modernise the institution to become more welcoming to start-ups and people wanting to grow a business – with a nod, in particular, to welcoming those in the tech industry – was an additional focus of the discussion.

Walker spoke at length, too, about his past career – spanning stints at British Airways, in the No. 10 Policy Unit and as Communications Director for HM Queen – as part of the event, which saw him in conversation with David Smith, Economics Editor of the Sunday Times, who graduated from Birkbeck in 1978.

Simon Walker was speaking as part of the 4th annual Memorial, held in honour of Lord Marshall, who was Chair of the Board of Governors at Birkbeck from 2003-2010.

As well as Chairing Birkbeck’s Board of Governors, Lord Marshall led British Airways for 21 years, including during its transition to privatisation. He was President of the Confederation of British Industry and also held the role of Chair of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House).

In a fitting tribute, the first Lord Marshall Memorial was delivered by Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group (IAG), which includes British Airways. Previous speakers have also included Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea and David Bernstein, CBE.

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Published: 21 July 2016