Business Leaders Summit 2016 - Responding to the growth challenge


Our second panel focused on key opportunities for British businesses in 2016. Naga Munchetty chaired the debate and the panellists were: Natarajan Chandrasekaran, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Tata Consultancy Services; Mark Elborne, President and CEO, GE UK and Ireland; David Fischel, Chief Executive, Intu Properties plc; Mark Weil, Chief Executive Officer, Marsh UK & Ireland; and Brooke Masters, Companies Editor, Financial Times.

Naga Munchetty: What are the key opportunities your company is embracing?

David Fischel: We get 400 million visitors a year through our shopping centres. The challenge is to make sure the customer experience is fantastic, that they come more often, stay longer and enjoy themselves.

Mark Weil: Fintech is growing and creating opportunity and there’s a real chance for London to become a centre of cyber risk expertise.

Natarajan Chandrasekaran: I think digital is the single biggest opportunity. Companies need to think through what it means to be digital: how do you recognise the physical assets you have, the strong customer base, and build a digital interface?

Mark Elborne: If you focus on health, energy and transportation, there’s transformation in all these industries. The digital change we’re going through as an industrial company is as significant to our future growth as it is to the way retail companies operate with consumers.

Naga: Brooke, what are you expecting to report on more this year?

Brooke Masters: I think top line growth is very elusive. If you can find a new product or service and get people to open their wallets, that’s crucial, because they are not buying that much of what they used to.

Naga: The BLS Survey showed only 28% were focused on technological change as a key opportunity to improve performance. Does that surprise you?

Natarajan: It surprises me. The icebreaker conversation is now around digital. I think we’re moving to the "experience first" economy, when most of us grew up in the "features first" economy. It is about having the right data to give a real-time response that improves experience.

Mark Elborne: We ran through economic surveys of what you can do with data in an industrial setting and found that the 1% efficiency saving that digital can bring industrially is worth $1 trillion to the world economy.

From right to left:

  • David Fischel, Chief Executive, Intu Properties plc
  • Mark Weil, CEO, Marsh UK & Ireland
  • Natarajan Chandrasekaran, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Tata Consultancy Services
  • Brooke Masters, Companies Editor, Financial Times
  • Mark Elborne, President and CEO, GE UK and Ireland

Naga: There are opportunities, but also risks.

Mark Weil: If you could wind forward five years and look at the transformation I’m convinced is going to happen, I think the urgency would be an order of magnitude different. Cyber risk is obviously the flip side to digitisation and the internet of things. If your technology people say they’ve got it covered, don’t believe them. You have to work on the assumption that one will get through.

Brooke: It is not just the bad guy either. Thousands of Americans woke up in January to find their heating had turned off because a digital thermostat update didn’t work.

Naga: How is Intu adjusting to this Fourth Industrial Revolution?

“Retail has been massively disrupted by e-commerce. But Apple has been one of the biggest disruptors and also our best tenant over the past ten years.”

David Fischel, Chief Executive, Intu Properties plc

David: Retail has been massively disrupted by e-commerce. But Apple has been one of the biggest disruptors and also our best tenant over the past ten years. The wheel does turn. Shoppers don’t spend so long shopping, but they’re ready to go into one of our restaurants, so shopping centres are proving adaptable.

Naga: How important are variable cost structures for agility?

Natarajan: Digital is the name of the game, both for costs and growth. With every big technological breakthrough, whether the steam engine or electricity, the productivity benefits have been huge.

Video: Panel Discussion - Responding to the Growth Challenge

Naga: How can the UK’s investment attractiveness be improved?

Brooke: I think Brexit is a real problem if you talk to international banks that don’t have another headquarters in the EU. Japanese or American multinationals are holding back. Finding ways to raise taxes on multinationals that don’t seem arbitrary is also a real challenge.

Mark Weil: Nobody mentioned runways; getting in and out of the country obviously helps my US colleagues.

David: I really don’t think we should be complacent. We’ve been putting money into Spain, where the roads work, the railways work, the airports work - the infrastructure is superior. On business rates, we are woefully uncompetitive and I think the UK has to urgently address that.

Naga: What are companies doing to address diversity?

Brooke: Colleges and universities are now disproportionately female. You need working structures, hours and benefits that are attractive to both men and women.

Mark Elborne: We’re in the biggest race of our lives. We all want the best talent, the theme is digital and that gene pool is not big enough yet. The opportunity is to be the most relevant, and to do that we have to focus more on diversity.

Mark Weil: When robots replace us all, you bet they’ll be male robots! It is going to take some fresh thinking about recruitment processes and interview panels.

Naga: How can businesses, banks and government work together to help Britain prosper globally?

Natarajan: Partnerships are the way of life for the future. I don’t think any problem as complex as those we now face can be solved by any one company. We look at partnerships with universities, start-ups and other companies.

Mark Elborne: Companies have to think more about breaking down barriers and growing through that vast population we lovingly call "the global brain". For example, we ran a competition to design a 3D-printed bracket that holds an engine on a wing, and a 21-year-old Indonesian won.

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