Everybody was aware of the short term economic turmoil that a Brexit would cause; they just didn’t expect it to actually happen.
For now, even though Article 50 has yet to be officially triggered and the exit negotiations are expected to take two years, the only thing we can be sure of is uncertainty and instability. This is compounded by the fact that we are in unchartered territory, as no country has ever been through the EU extrication process before.
In certain sectors, notably financial services, we are likely to see a movement of some companies’ European operations or HQs from the UK to a country inside the EU single market. While this is not welcome news for the executive search industry, change and restructuring can bring new opportunities, not just in search but in organisational design and other leadership advisory services.
The UK’s economic prosperity relies on diversity, which includes imported talent at all levels. At the highest level, 70% of FTSE20 chairmen and 50% of CEOs are non-British, with a growing emphasis on bringing in experience in emerging markets rather than the relatively mature markets of Continental Europe. Withdrawal from the EU is not likely to affect the recruitment of top level leaders from other parts of Europe. The impact for incoming European labour will be further down the employment scale; mass market workers will be subject to tighter controls and skills assessment.
In this climate of unpredictability, businesses are likely to delay decisions on permanent hires and take a shorter term approach. That makes interim management an attractive option, as experienced professionals can come on board and keep critical initiatives going, but can be shed without financial consequence. As well as offering a variable overhead, interims offer the compelling benefit of being adept at navigating change and are an asset to any company undergoing transformation or adaptation to a new set of rules and processes.
One thing that is certain is that British business is adaptable and resilient. We are world leaders in many fields and there are many countries around the globe that will want to trade with us, both inside and outside the European market place. The UK does not want to shut the door on our neighbours and trading partners in Europe – it is the political element of the EU that is unpopular.
Although both the leading British political parties – in power and in opposition - are currently imploding, a common train of thought seems to be emerging with regard to the forthcoming EU negotiations: both parties acknowledge that securing access to the single market is the biggest priority. While that will be a challenge, as conditions will no doubt be attached, the UK will be free to forge more commercially competitive trading links with countries outside Europe without being hampered by EU bureaucracy.
The UK can sink or swim and it is not in the British psyche to opt for the former. It is time to start focusing on the positives and creating fresh opportunities. The leadership advisory and executive search industry has a vital role to play in helping UK business adapt to a new commercial landscape through smart talent acquisition and management.