OUR recent PwC private business dinner, attended by leaders from the region’s business community, served as another reminder of the wide-ranging challenges facing companies as they grow.
Business strategy for growing private businesses was a key discussion point and a poll carried out during the evening revealed some interesting perspectives on issues such as cyber security, leaving the EU, the National Living Wage and the importance of corporate social responsibility.
The threat of cyber attacks was a hot topic in the room, with the poll revealing that 90 per cent of attendees felt that cyber security is a concern.
It is important for all businesses to be aware of the threat and I am pleased to see, as I write this article, that Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has announced that the government is planning to launch a programme to build the cyber skills we need to prevent the risk of cyber attacks harming our economy.
Another topic debated at the dinner was sentiment on the outcome of the EU Referendum. The poll revealed that just over half (54%) of the attendees believe that leaving the EU will have a negative effect on business.
It is clearly an issue on which business leaders need to understand the facts and the relative implications of remaining in or leaving the EU.
This needs to go beyond just the business issues to consider the broader outlook – the opportunities the EU brings for travel and work, the possibilities for young people, the potential social benefits such as knowledge sharing and cultural understanding.
These issues all, in some shape or form, have an impact on the current and future workforce, suppliers and customers of businesses in the region.
The jury is still out on the National Living Wage in terms of driving productivity. Only 20% felt that it will increase productivity, with 45% stating it will not and 30% undecided.
Again here, it is the more subtle connections to productivity gained through higher living standards that is commonly overlooked. But there was a consistent view on corporate social responsibility for private businesses, with 75% of participants saying that a defined corporate social responsibility policy and core values are important.
Interesting that as a stand-alone topic it is so positively supported.
Our keynote speaker Jon Moulton, founder and managing partner of the private equity firm Better Capital, talked about some of the different strategies open to private businesses including venture capital and private equity.
This led to discussions on a wide range of possibilities that can work for some businesses but that may not be appropriate for others.
For example, there are business owners who are driven by the need for quick success and want to move on to the next challenge. In these cases, solutions such as listing, selling or securing private equity can be attractive but this is not for everyone.
It really depends on what outcome a business owner wants. For entrepreneurs who believe passionately in their offering and long established family-run businesses that put more focus on succession, other options need to be on the table.
These might include structured succession planning to pass the business on to the next generation, diversification, or external management with family oversight.
As ever, my interaction with private businesses reinforces my view that the best conclusions can only be reached through understanding the needs, wants and emotional desires through consultation and challenge.
We do not have all the answers but we have the skills to raise the necessary issues, identify opportunities and support private businesses on their journey.
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