Monday, 30 April 2012

Exporting our Future

A few things have happened over the past few weeks which have made me look at the impact of this recession differently.

I have been to the Middle East several times recently and had quite a few discussions with young people from within the construction industry.  At the end of last year a close friend of the family emigrated to Perth, Australia.  At the beginning of this year a friend who I had worked with throughout the BSF programme emigrated with his whole family to Canada.

When in the Middle East, I have met so many people who have moved from the UK to make a new life.

Only last week one of our young architects in our Newcastle office decided to emigrate to Canada where they are crying out for young professionals.

My concern is not the short term, but more the long term impact this will have on UK PLC.  Lots of our brightest talent is leaving the country.  In the future we will pay the price for this.

Whilst in the short term, it is great there is a market for our skills but once they are gone they are gone.

Much of the historic success of our country has been built on our engineering and construction skill. Once it has been exported it is difficult to get it back.

Our government needs to make staying in the UK attractive to our young people and must give them exciting and creative opportunities if we are going to be a respected knowledge base across the world.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Holiday Book Review

Regular readers of my blog will know that my holidays are a time for me to catch up on my reading. The weeks before I go away I build up a store of books on my iPad and work my way through them. I am not a fan of fiction but enjoy reading peoples stories, particularly related to business.

On this holiday we have travelled to Gran Canaria again.  We always go for the hotels which are full of Germans as you are guaranteed good service.  This time the hotel has a wider European must be that everyone in Europe is ready for a break.

My reading this holiday has been eclectic to say the least.  I have read Shaun Ryders autobiography, Karen Brady and Anita Roddick’s story, as well as Boomerang and a book by Alastair Campbell.

The Shaun Ryder book is an amazing story, however there is a theme throughout.  He spent at least 20 years up to his eyes on drugs.  Clearly he had a tough upbringing and was a product of his background.  The story has a happy ending however as he has clearly met a woman who looks after him and he is now focused on important things in life, rather than only drugs.

The Alastair Campbell book talks about happiness and his fight with depression.  I am a fan of Alastair Campbell as I think he has a brilliant mind.  A really thought provoking book.

I also read boomerang which is a must read.  It is an up to date view of the impact the banking collapse has had across the globe.  It covers Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Germany and America.

When you follow the stories it is unbelievable that we let this happen.  In Iceland you had fishermen becoming corporate bankers with no experience.  Our government recommended that our local authorities invest in this country.  Unbelievable.

The story in Ireland is a little different in that the government made a huge mistake in underwriting the banks debt and ultimately crippled the whole country.  The German story is that they invested in all of these countries and therefore couldn't possibly let them fail.

The Greek story is the most unbelievable.  They lied their way into the Euro by creative accounting and took full advantage once they were in by borrowing and spending more.  They overpaid public sector workers and didn't collect their taxes.

Boomerang is a great book, a quick read which you will find fascinating.

I also read the Karen Brady story as well as the Anita Roddick story.  It's a coincidence that I ended up reading about two successful business women.  Karen Brady is a really driven individual and clearly a workaholic and a great business woman.  I would imagine she has had to make many sacrifices and only time what the impact will be in years to come as the relationship with her children develops.

Anita Roddick’s couldn't be more different.  I think her success happened by accident.  She was clearly a very spiritual lady and driven by her values.

The book was written in 2000 and it wasn't long after this that she sadly died.  When you read the book now, she was clearly way ahead of her time.  All of the things companies such as M&S and Sainsbury’s are doing now in relation to the environment, she was promoting 15 years ago.

There have been several other books, all too sad to mention, but a good mix on this holiday.  The benefit of the iPad is you can take 20 books without having to worry about your luggage allowance!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Mike Ashley v Geordie Faithful

What a story Newcastle United has turned out to be this year. I think what has happened at the club since Mike Ashley took over has been fascinating.

It gives the supporters a real problem. For the last few years they have criticised Ashley for just about everything he has done. Unfortunately for the supporters, he is having huge success with the club, not equalled in 15 years. As well as success on the field, the business has never been in better shape.

What are the supporters going to say or do now? I have always been a supporter of Ashley and said I would judge him on results. Well, where we find ourselves now is that his decisions have been proven right. When he sacked Chris Hughton I said I would judge him on his replacement. I think Alan Pardew is a great manager and has a great team around him. I think most of his tactical decisions have been sound throughout the season.

In relation to the sale of Andy Carroll, again I said I would judge the decision on the replacement. There is no doubt now that selling him was the deal of the season and Cisse has been a revelation.

I think the success this season on the pitch has been down to the team spirit. There are no stars in the team such as a Shearer or a Carroll. I think the influence of Coloccini and Gutierrez has had a huge settling influence and brought maturity to the dressing room.

Off the pitch, Mike Ashley has been single minded and stuck to his plan. Despite criticism, he got rid of expensive problem players such as Nolan and Barton. He is committed to only buying young talent, with future potential and value. Ultimately, he is patient for success.

For those who are not as patient, such as Manchester City or Liverpool, spending £240 million has not provided the answer. Our problems next season will come from the very same clubs. They will undoubtedly pursue our players and our manager. Mike Ashley is a trader and if the deal is good, I have no doubt he will sell.

I also think that if we get into the champions league, Ashley may look to get out himself. He will have to weigh up the cash benefit against the European profile for sports direct.

If we get to the Champions League the renaming of St James Park may be another master stroke, if a big sponsor such as Qatar Airways comes forward.

All of this success is a little embarrassing for the supporters. Mr Ashley got it right and the 54,000 Geordie Faithful got it wrong! Maybe because he made dispassionate decisions, rather than getting wrapped up in history and tradition, he has been able to take the club forward.

Despite this he will always be seen as an outsider and will never get the recognition for what he has achieved. I suspect Mike Ashley couldn't care less. Newcastle United is an investment and something to do with the kids on a Saturday afternoon.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Another Trip to Qatar

Just before I headed off on my Easter break I had a few days in Qatar. I continue to be fascinated by this place.

I was out there talking to a client about a retail opportunity.

Before I get on about Qatar....the previous weekend I had been to the Westfield shopping centre at Stratford on the Olympic Park on a scouting mission before going to Doha. If you haven’t been it is really worth a visit when in London. It makes the Metro Centre or Trafford Centre look so 1980s. It is more than just a shopping centre and is more of a destination, with lots of leisure activities as part of the centre. We were there late in the evening and it was buzzing.

With the Olympics only weeks away all of the international retailers were making a real effort with their stores.

Anyway back to Qatar. At the moment there is lots of talk and huge plans. Without doubt there are billions to be spent. I think however the country is a big social experiment. At present it must be the biggest export market for UK skills. We have filled the country with construction and oil professionals who are all working tax free for their futures. None of these people see a long term future in the country.

All of the work is being carried out by Indian labour...they will not stay beyond the construction work.

Most of the Qataris work in government pushing paper around. They really would rather be in the malls spending their cash.

The ruling families are building a fantastic infrastructure for the country but they need to also build knowledge. As they invest in their country they must work hard on the knowledge transfer. They must encourage the indigenous population to work with the Europeans and Americans to learn new skills before they all leave.

The country has to develop its own entrepreneurs and thinkers, as well as building roads and railways. To put things in perspective, our country has been developing for hundreds of years. In reality, Qatar only started its journey 40 years ago.

I admire what they are trying to do and I look forward to following their progress over the years ahead!