A message from the Director General, May 2012

Just weeks to go until the Olympics, what are the lessons of London 2012 and what parallels are there for British business? First, that daring to compete is fundamental. We were not the favourite when the International Olympic Committee chose London in 2005.

Attention to detail matters. Without a few careless words about Finnish cuisine from French president Jacques Chirac – which cost Paris vital Scandinavian selection support – the British bid could have been defeated. And timing matters. A week later, after the 7/7 bombings, London’s chances would have been severely jeopardised.

Commitment is vital. Belief that you can build a business is fundamental to success. Be ambitious but before you launch a product, test it rigorously. The Olympic venues, technology, and operational teams will have a thorough run-through before the athletes march around the stadium.

The Olympic themes – higher, faster, stronger – should be applied to the UK economy. Higher growth is a prerequisite for recovery. We need the process of employing people to be cheaper and easier. US business is seeing job growth as a result of greater employment flexibility
as well as Obama’s cut  in payroll taxes – the equivalent of Britain’s employer national insurance contributions.

In business, as in nature, it’s not always the big that eat the small – it’s the fast that eat the slow. The bankruptcy of Kodak – an iconic company that identified the digital revolution but didn’t act quickly enough – is proof. So is the collapse of luxury clothing retailer Aquascutum, which did not move quickly enough in changing markets.

Strength requires renewal and we need to build new business leadership. Carphone Warehouse is the youngest FTSE-100 company and it’s 25 years old. Contrast that with the US where Google and Facebook have grown from nothing in 10 years or less. How much of the UK’s success will come from first- and second-generation Britons? A nation’s stock, like a company’s, needs renewal. Phillips Idowu and Jessica Ennis are UK Olympic prospects as Stelios Haji-Ioannou, TidjaneThiam and Brent Hoberman are part of the business fabric.

The free market, like sport, is a ruthless meritocracy. No regulator insists everyone gets a chance to compete in the Olympic athletics team. There isn’t compensation for having shorter legs, weaker muscle tone or less lung capacity.

Hosting the Olympics shows that Britain can create and deliver as long as our country and business community have the confidence and commitment to compete.

Simon Walker

Director General of the Institute of Directors

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