Falling in the middle of one of the most dramatic election campaigns, the day’s headline acts included Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable, Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne and Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, who attempted to assuage the concerns of the assembled – and didn’t veer off party-message much.
Securing a successful economic future depended on ‘good, successful and profitable business’, said Cable; the conservatives were keen to ‘unleash the pent-up entrepreneurial forces of British business’, said Osborne, who also conjured a vision of a return of the political trade mission to drum up business in emerging markets; and Mandelson pointed out that competing with countries such as China and India on skills and technology ‘must dominate what the next government does’, and called for ‘less financial engineering, more real engineering’.
Competition from emerging markets also featured in the presentation by Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP. He outlined the group’s strategic objectives of ‘new markets, new media and the power of consumer insight’ and eight key areas of opportunity.
Those included the rise of Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East and central Europe, with Latin America especially coming into its own in the next decade. The war for talent – ‘attracting, retaining, incentivising people – that’s the key battleground’, said Sorrell – the ability of high-tech companies to become more attractive destination for your talent; the continued rise of retail; the importance of groups communicating strategy and structural changes internally; and the rise of corporate social responsibility – ‘CSR is not charity, it’s good business,’ Sorrell said. ‘If we build buildings that are Greener or if we travel less, our business is more efficient.’
Other speakers included Stephen Green, chairman of HSBC holdings, the inspirational former soldier Phil Packer, who overcame a spinal cord injury to raise money for different charities, and a panel of entrepreneurs such as Emma Harrison, chairman of A4e and Simon Calver, chief executive of Lovefilm, who shared their experiences of finding business success.
Final act Michael Johnson – the runner, not the designer – made the audience frantically reach for their Twitter updates with a reference to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s ‘bigot’ blip – the news had not yet reached the darkened dome of the Royal Albert Hall.