Smoke & Mirrors: Preparing for Brexit

Smokehouse appoints a risk management expert to examine the implications for the business if Britain leaves the EU. But all he's concerned about is the French butter...

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 27 Jun 2016


Because Smokehouse is a global organisation, we have an absolute hair trigger when it comes to international risk and opportunity. For example, when the Berlin Wall came down we knew what a huge opportunity that represented and that is why we opened a new office in the Ukraine last year, which we're now in the process of closing. Naturally, it hasn't escaped our notice that Britain might be leaving the EU and this has galvanised the board into all sorts of actions. The first of which was to explain to our bewigged CEO Lynton Spivey that Brexit wasn't a breakfast cereal. He said he was absolutely on top of it but his wig lifted slightly, which is always a telltale sign that he's been taken completely by surprise.


Anyway the wig has now landed, he's got his head round it and that explains why today I am flying to the south of Spain on a budget airline for a Smokehouse European Managers' Conference to examine the potential impact of Brexit on the bowels of the organisation. Obviously the first impact was that I was on a budget airline, which anybody in business with a budget doesn't go anywhere near. When we got to Malaga, I discovered that Spivey had flown over on British Airways club class. I was about to upgrade his understanding of team motivation with a few choice swear words when I was interrupted by a small man with glasses who seemed to be travelling with Spivey. On his card it said 'Brian Humphries. Risk Management'.


After a few calls back to base, I learned that Brian had just been appointed by Spivey to manage the Brexit risk and apparently he had some kind of strategy/military background. The first action Brian had taken was to make sure the board took different flights in case one of our flights was hit by a Russian missile and the top secret recipe for a prosthetic leg went down with us. I caught up with Brian later and he confirmed that this was the case and it was all part of his risk mitigation strategy. I pointed out that the safest part of any aircraft was right at the back by the toilets, and that Spivey seemed to be at the pointy end. He ignored this, probably because he was too busy scanning the hotel lobby for potential threats.


Although Brexit is clearly a very big risk, it's amazing how a round of golf can make you feel better about the whole thing. Dave Brown, our German MD, had arranged everything with Shelagh Donoghue, our French MD, and Clive Southgate, our Greek MD. Later on we all met up in a meeting room to hear a presentation by Brian from his specially ruggedized laptop that was built to withstand the risk of falling from the desk. To be absolutely honest, I'd had a few drinks in the bar by this stage with Chris Thomas, our Dutch MD, and Helen Maybury, our Spanish MD, so not much of what Brian said went in. That night we all went out to an Irish bar and talked long into the night about Brexit-related issues I believe.


Because Spivey wouldn't recognise a threat to the business if it stood up in his soup, I'd done a little contingency planning earlier in the week. After flying back to London, I had back-to-back meetings. First in was our lawyer Morne du Plessis to talk us through the legal ramifications of Brexit. Then we had our investment banker Ralf Kubler present on the financial implications and finally our HR consultant Dafne deWilde talked us through the people issues. Later that day, I got an email from Brian saying he was changing our butter supply in the canteen from French to British for security of supply reasons. This got severely up my nose so I checked his background and it turns out he was an army payroll corporal in Camberley for two years. I spoke to Spivey and we fired Brian. I told him to view it as his own personal Brexit.

Guy Browning is the author of The British Constitution: First Draft, published by Atlantic Books at £7.99. He can be contacted at

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