AUTHOR: Jurga Zilinskiene
DATE: September 19, 2019
Guildhawk’s CEO Meets Larry the Cat (and the Prime Minister) for Further Talks at No. 10
Jurga gets a second chance to bend Boris’s ear on ethical business development – and make friends with Downing Street’s most high-profile mouser.
Earlier this month I was delighted to be invited to No. 10 Downing Street to take part in a business roundtable with Andrea Leadsom, the Business Secretary, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson – then only a few weeks into the job, but already showing a determination to get up to speed with every facet of his demanding role.
The purpose of the roundtable was to address some of the main concerns facing small and medium-size enterprises in today’s unpredictable climate – and along with my fellow business representatives from across the UK, we didn’t mince our words in calling for better support for ethical business development. It was a rare chance to present our views to government leaders face to face, and we were encouraged by their positive reaction.
A few days later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a second invitation from the PM’s office – this time to a business reception that promised to place the emphasis more on informal networking than hard-hitting brainstorming. However, I’m not one to waste an opportunity to bend the ear of the government’s power brokers and policy makers, so I welcomed the event as another chance to reaffirm some of the points I made at the roundtable and again in my original follow-up letter to the PM.
So on Tuesday evening, primed with some of the burning issues of the day, I set off in high spirits for my second encounter with Britain’s top political office. Secretly, I was also hoping to bump into Downing Street’s most high-profile mouser, Larry the cat – whom I have a sneaking suspicion is the true éminence grise of the cabinet!
On entering the building behind the most famous front door in London, visitors are greeted by the grand staircase lined with portraits of past British Prime Ministers. As I walked up – taking my time, so as to fully absorb the privilege of my surroundings – I reflected on the legacy of this extraordinary group of diverse individuals, all of whom had made their own special mark on the government of the day: Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of the modern era; Benjamin Disraeli, the great statesman who championed Britain’s role in world politics; Sir Winston Churchill, whose inspirational leadership at a time of national crisis is still revered; Clement Attlee, the quiet force behind the revolutionary creation of the Welfare State; Margaret Thatcher, who broke the glass ceiling as the UK’s first female PM…. We may not always agree with their views, but pausing before each portrait in turn, one cannot fail to be inspired by their dedication to serving their country and their shared conviction that politics represents a force for good.
Photograph courtesy of 10 Downing Street
In such illustrious company, one could easily feel slightly overawed. But as I finally reached the top of the historic staircase and heard the buzz of conversation coming from the elegant reception rooms, I remembered that we had all been invited for the contribution we had ourselves already made to today’s world and our ideas for shaping its future prosperity.
I had an enjoyable and productive time chatting to the PM, government ministers, meeting Members of Parliament and exchanging views with fellow business leaders. Each and every one of them was interested to hear about the work that Guildhawk is doing to support UK exporters and ensure that Britain remains pro-business, as well as our championing of an ethical economy based on merit and fairness – a point that had emerged strongly from all sides of the table at the previous event.
So it was encouraging that when Boris Johnson eventually broke away from mingling with his guests to take to the podium, one of the first points he made in his short address was to reiterate his commitment to do everything in his power to boost trade and make Britain a safe place for business to prosper. As he stressed the importance of investing in infrastructure and education to ensure a well-trained, well-equipped workforce, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, nodded firmly in agreement.
Of course, there was no avoiding the elephant in the room – in fact, the PM was refreshingly upfront about the enormous challenges that lie ahead after Brexit, comparing the exit deal to a business negotiation in which both parties have strongly opposing views but must reach a mutually acceptable settlement. As business leaders, we are all too familiar with the twin emotions of excitement and fear experienced during an important contract negotiation, followed by relief tinged with apprehension when the terms are finally agreed upon but with concessions won and lost on both sides. Whatever our position on Brexit, however, it is our duty as business leaders to make the new status quo work for the benefit of all, and Boris’s encouraging words reminded me of the old saying that as one door closes, another opens.
“Whatever our position on Brexit, however, it is our duty as business leaders to make the new status quo work for the benefit of all”
As the familiar black door of No.10 closed behind me, I was lucky enough to finally cross paths with perhaps the most famous resident of them all, and certainly the most enduring. Larry the Downing Street cat has already welcomed three PMs and waved off two of them. As I stroked his warm fur, I wondered what he made of all the comings and goings. It made me reflect that for most of us, life goes on come what may, and after listening to the PM and other business colleagues in London and Sheffield this week, I know we have the will and the skill to unite and open new doors to a bright future.