What a privilege it was to be invited to join the panel of speakers at the Be the Business Breakfast Briefing, held in the dramatic setting of the Leadenhall Building on Friday 15 November.

One of the City of London’s most iconic skyscrapers was a fitting location for a gathering of forward-looking business leaders with their sights set on new horizons.

The occasion marked the launch of the initiative’s ‘Business Leadership for a Better Decade’ campaign. The last decade has taken a serious toll on the UK’s economy, but it’s not too late to reverse the decline. By encouraging over 100 chairs and chief executives of influential companies to join forces, the vision is to build a more competitive, more productive UK – whatever challenges the future may throw at us all.

Despite the wide remit of the companies represented at the event – from retail giants John Lewis and financial powerhouse Lloyds Banking Group to pharma pioneers GSK and tech innovators Salesforce – the common concern was surprisingly unanimous: the continuing drop in UK productivity. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) paint a pessimistic picture of manufacturing output since the financial crisis of 2008, accompanied by a fall in investment and stagnant wage growth, while the Bank of England reports a 20 per cent drop in productivity over the last decade, costing the UK economy an estimated £450bn.

“…the Bank of England reports a 20 per cent drop in productivity over the last decade, costing the UK economy an estimated £450bn.”

I’ve always been a glass half full kind of girl, but it’s hard to argue with the stats. Only too often, best intentions have been scuppered by poor decisions, lack of investment, or just plain complacency. UK business needs to wake up to the fact that the fourth industrial revolution is real and immediate. So I’m very happy to be part of a trailblazing initiative that has come together to tackle the issue head-on. Be the Business aims to throw light on the importance of considerate competition to drive innovation and investment. It’s simply not enough to rely on the government to legislate for growth – growth has to come from the ground up.

With that growth in mind, one of the main conclusions that emerged from Friday’s meeting was that productivity is driven by three main factors: exporting, benchmarking, and adaptation of technology.

I know from my own experience that exporting companies tend to be more productive – we have the awards and record to prove it! And this is corroborated by the ONS once again: ‘UK businesses which declare international trade in goods were around 70% more productive on average than non-traders in 2016’. The message from the global market is that we can’t hang around waiting for it to come to us – we have to get ourselves out there and find it!

“UK businesses which declare international trade in goods were around 70% more productive on average than non-traders in 2016.”

From a technology perspective, to unlock the potential for dramatic change, we must provide the right conditions and resources to allow our people to disrupt the status quo, to innovate, create and then leverage new tech to boost productivity right across the board.

And therein lies the major takeaway. It’s no secret by now that I’m a passionate believer in people power. Productivity begins a with happy, motivated and valued workforce and this philosophy has helped me to grow Guildhawk through the challenging conditions of the past decade. Employees each bring their own individual strengths to any business, and it’s the job of business leaders to nurture and promote this potential. (One of my main reasons for getting involved in Be the Business in the first place, in fact, was to learn more about the partnership model that’s worked so well for John Lewis, and make it work for us too.)

But back to Be the Business – the initiative fast becoming a major player in maximising the UK’s drive for better productivity. So far it has reached out to thousands of businesses, with the goal being to hit the million mark. It’s an ambitious target, but by promoting its message through clients and supply chains, seconding staff to develop programmes, and seeking investment from partner organisations, it’s looking increasingly achievable.

I was heartened to see the level of commitment and optimism that shone from everyone present in The Leadenhall Building last week. But, if our conversations revealed anything, it was that we must not rest on our laurels and expect change to come about without hard work and dedication to the future prosperity of UK business. As business pioneers, our role is to inspire with our vision, but also to provide practical and down-to-earth leadership from the C-suite to the shop floor. So which comes first – the vision or the leadership? This particular 64,000-dollar question isn’t going to be answered overnight – but Be the Business is firmly on the case!

Find out more about Be the Business here.