What Europe's business leaders think about Brexit

The die is cast - but how should the UK make the most of life beyond the EU? Here are five perspectives from around the continent on the opportunities and challenges ahead.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 14 Sep 2016

Laurence Parisot, French, owner and CEO of Ifop (French Institute of Public Opinion); board director of BNP and EDF

I am not a believer in walls and barriers. I embrace the excitement of the unexpected and the creativity that comes from openness and cultural diversity. Exchanging ideas. Collaboration. These qualities bring prosperity and freedom.

I can almost hear English voices saying, 'That's so typically French.' Yes, I am French. Some have even called me the Joan of Arc of French entrepreneurs. But I am not one of those who savours the opportunities that Brexit might bring to Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam. My deepest desire is not to maintain entente cordiale, but to enhance it.

I know the economic risks triggered by Brexit are real. However, I know how crisis and opportunity go hand in hand. So I am glad of the chance to suggest four thoughts of warm encouragement to UK plc.

Firstly, make the most of your strengths. Britain is famous for its pragmatism, resilience and, when special efforts are needed, application. You should rekindle and deploy your can-do spirit.

Secondly, you are very good at business. You have a heritage, appetite and talent for it. So don't give up on how you seek trade with Europe. Don't give up on France. True, we French are uniquely capable of working ourselves (and yes, our British friends) into a rage about points we feel need to be defended, which you would regard as uncontroversial. But, as in rugby's 'Le Crunch', competition between our two nations can lead to brilliant and valuable outcomes.

Thirdly, cherish your inventors, your engineers, and your thinkers - philosophers, mathematicians, physicians. With the City, you have been incredibly successful. But it is time to rebalance your priorities. You can become one of the most advanced zero carbon economies in the world. And you lead the way in the artificial intelligence revolution.

Finally, keep being fashionable. You have so many outstanding personalities who influence the way we act, think and dream. So, I urge UK plc to mobilise your teams with one clear slogan: Engage and connect to maintain your powerful and positive influence.

Hermann Hauser, Austrian, co-founder of Acorn Computers and Amadeus Capital

I felt very sad when I heard Britain voted to leave. I haven’t given up hope that there is a very small chance that article 50 will never be invoked, one hopes people may see sense.

Whether you believe the EU has contributed to that or not, the fact is that during its membership of the EU Britain went from being the sick man of Europe to actually over the last few years the fastest growing economy in Europe. It certainly didn’t drag Britain down.

Venture capital investments went down 60% in July on last year. It’s only one month and it might be an overreaction but it’s the most dramatic fall in the UK ever. It’s also worth remembering that 25% of British venture capital comes from the EIF (European Investment Fund) and I don’t know whether we’ll still have access to all that money.

There are a number of European technology clusters now growing much faster than the British ones – Berlin, Paris, Stockholm. The relative weight that Britain has had in technology – not quite as good as the US but better than the continent – is probably going to change, and this change is accelerating.

In the same way Britain is drawing up the drawbridge, the woman scorned is going to draw up the drawbridge as well. If I am a French or German company and I have the choice between two suppliers that are roughly the same, one British and one European, then I’m going to use the European one for emotional reasons. Clearly if the British part is cheaper or a lot better then I’ll buy British but if not then I’ll buy from my family.

Britain needs access to the European market. Australia is worth 1% of our trade, Europe is worth 45% of our trade. Unless we retain a close relationship with EU like that we have right now and remain in the common market, I really fear for Europe.

Jonas Prising, Swedish, chairman and CEO, Manpower Group

Post Brexit vote, the eyes of the world are on the UK. As employers we have a key role to play in protecting Brand UK’s reputation as the destination for skilled talent that it has been for decades.

Flow of labour is one of the fundamental tenets of the EU and employers must ensure this is maintained for those in the UK today and for those wishing to come in the future. Business leaders should make clear that EU talent is valued in their organizations and that they won’t stop welcoming the people they need to remain competitive.

We also cannot ignore the lesson of the referendum: people across the UK feel disenfranchised and disconnected. As businesses, we must be positive contributors to societal change. We need to ask — what can we do to build employability in the communities in which we operate?

Employers should show the world and their employees that the UK is very much open for business and values international talent. That’s exactly what our organization is doing and we’re proud to work with many others who share this focus.

Nina Pfifer, Slovenian, serial entrepreneur and founder of 51 North Partners

Global markets have been reeling from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, and investors are understandably anxious to avoid getting burned by the shifting global development.

I have been working in the Private Equity sector for the last ten years and, just a few months ago I moved back to London after 6 volatile years in Istanbul. Turkey went from a booming emerging market to a dramatic downturn with significant business consequences. Little did I know that political instability is no longer limited to emerging markets: we are facing an unsettling environment in the challenges in UK.

It is a truism that business hates uncertainty. The lessons learned in the emerging markets are useful for the UK today: every business should have a well defined Plan B(rexit).

In general, in political crises the best thing to do is to demonstrate strength in institutions and stability. Teresa May has been very effective in doing this as an incoming prime minister and needs to continue to present in the UK in this light. If in the future, there are cracks in the joined up government response, these need to be dealt with quickly to avoid uncertainty.

The second thing that needs to happen is that the UK must show its capability in continuing the relationships with its European partners in a productive and effective fashion. No news is NOT good news in world of finance, so the more that reassurance can be given, the better.

Nicolas Brusson, French, COO and co-founder, BlaBlaCar

The decision has been made to leave the EU, so what’s important now is how Britain moves forward from here. For the UK’s tech entrepreneurs, that means ensuring business can go on as usual – or at least with as little disruption as possible.

A key focus must be on how the UK can retain access to the single market, which has been key to supporting tech companies as they grow. This will not be an easy or quick task, but it’s crucial that Britain is not cut off in terms of regulation, talent, or access to consumers.

The EU’s recent drive for a Digital Single Market is an example of something Britain could miss out on without access to the single market – it helps tech companies to be competitive and grow quickly in a fast-moving landscape, and is an initiative we have been proud to support.

Europe is fast becoming a global hub for technology, and London is one of its shining lights. With the right regulations, this should continue to be the case. The UK is still in prime position to drive innovation in Europe and we’re excited to see it adapt to the challenges ahead.


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