Our CEO Jurga on her participation in the Global Lithuanian Leaders Summer Gathering, where she spoke about Brexit and the importance of strong leadership in these times of change.

Crowds at the Global Lithuanian Leaders Summer Gathering 2019

I have to admit I felt a certain amount of trepidation as I set off for the Global Lithuanian Leaders (GLL) Summer Gathering in Vilnius on 25 July. On the one hand, as a proud Lithuanian who has worked tirelessly to break down global barriers, I was thrilled to be invited to address the first edition of this exciting new event, and to share the platform with many distinguished colleagues. On the other hand, my talk was to be on the subject of Brexit – surely the most divisive of issues currently facing Europe as a whole, and my adopted home of Britain in particular. Even the title of my presentation, ‘Leading through the turbulent times of Brexit’, hinted at the fact that, whatever your politics, delivery of the 2016 referendum vote is going to be anything but plain sailing.

Businesses that trade across European borders are understandably concerned about what the future holds for themselves and their customers alike. The outcome of Brexit will impact every company, large or small. For each and every one of us, it’s a step into the unknown. But while some are simply burying their heads in the sand and hoping the storm will pass, others are seeing it as a positive opportunity for dynamic change – a wake-up call, if you like, to remind us that good business is always proactive. In fact, according to the Bank of England, 60 per cent of UK businesses are already executing their Brexit plan so as to be fully prepared for any eventuality, come what may.

It is misleading, however, to think of Brexit as a unique scenario. As I reminded the GLL delegates, we Lithuanians experienced something very similar when we broke away from the Soviet Union – definitely with no deal! I’m not saying it was easy – the country suffered several years of extreme pain, privation and even violence in the immediate aftermath of the fall of communism – but viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the long-term benefits have been overwhelmingly positive for Lithuania, which continues to flourish under its newfound independence.

“I sincerely hope the British people can take a leaf out of Lithuania’s book and move on from Brexit with the same robust ‘can-do’ attitude that helped the former Eastern Bloc countries to survive political upheaval and emerge stronger.”

Jurga Zilinskiene of Guildhawk and Prime Minister Boris Johnson

To be honest, I’m not a fan of Brexit myself, but my experience has taught me to always look for the silver lining through the clouds. From this positive perspective, I can see opportunities to forge new links, open up new markets, create new relationships, and build resilience to the ups and downs of global politics. Who knows – we might even invite Boris Johnson to join us for the 2020 Summer Gathering  – after all, he has Lithuanian heritage!

But back to this year’s gathering – intriguingly billed as a ‘curiosity rollercoaster’; an apt description of this diverse and stimulating event, where the topics ranged from cybersecurity to humanitarian aid. All the speakers were fascinating, but one who struck a particular chord with me was Lineta Mišeikytė of the Baltic Film Service. Lineta co-produced the HBO miniseries Chernobyl that created such a stir earlier this year, which was filmed partly in Lithuania. She maintains that Lithuanians (and Ukrainians alike) are still struggling to come to terms with their controversial history. It’s almost as if we are ashamed of our Soviet past. But like it or not, it defined who we were during the last century and it has made us what we are today. I sincerely hope the British people can take a leaf out of Lithuania’s book and move on from Brexit with the same robust ‘can-do’ attitude that helped the former Eastern Bloc countries to survive political upheaval and emerge stronger.

Right now, Brexit seems to be getting the blame for a bewildering range of potential ills, from total economic meltdown to a shortage of avocados. But by taking the long view, we can reassure ourselves and our partners in business that we have the power to rewrite the script.

I’ve always believed passionately that linguistic and cultural differences should not be barriers to effective communication – it’s one of the reasons I founded Guildhawk. This feeling came back to me vividly as I enjoyed a sociable drink with fellow GLL delegates after the main business of the day was concluded. Business networks are like spider’s webs – seemingly fragile and delicate, yet capable of withstanding strong forces and repairable, with care and effort, when damaged. Let’s hope that after we have weathered the Brexit storm, we and our European neighbours can look forward to a future in the sun.

All images © Global Lithuanian Leaders.