Europe was the topic for discussion as business leaders and experts gathered at The University of Kent’s Sibson Building for the annual Kent Business Summit.
Organised by Kent Business School (KBS) in partnership with the Institute of Directors (IOD) and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the half-day summit titled ‘Shaping Kent’s future in a global economy’, saw more than 150 Kent business leaders, directors, academics and politicians coming together to share their ideas, experience and expertise on how to prepare for the UK’s exit from the European Union.
The summit was the first large-scale event under the umbrella of PROJECT UK; a 5-year cross-faculty project within the University of Kent, examining the economic, political and social implications for the UK as the first country ever to leave the EU.
This year’s summit was joined by two Conservative Members of Parliament in Kent; Rehman Chishti the MP for Gillingham, and Rainhamand, and Gordon Henderson the MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey.
The objectives of the day were primarily focused on Brexit and how Kent businesses and leaders are going to respond to the exit process. The summit wanted to bring a realistic, but constructive message about the way forward for Kent; monitoring the economic implications of Brexit for local and regional business and into Brexit-related research at the University of Kent.
The day began with round table sessions with business leaders discussing strong leadership in an uncertain world, exportations, innovation pending Brexit, the future of the UK workforce and outlining how to put Kent on the map for business.
It was then followed by round table summaries by rapporteurs and a number of keynote speakers, including Vagelis Gizelis, a managing director of Greek machinery manufacturer, Gizelis.
Mr Gizelis talked about how his firm invested €15 million in new equipment in 2008 only to lose 60% of its turnover after the collapse of the Greek economy in 2009. Furthermore, how he was able to recover by developing overseas markets. He finished his speech by sending some words of advice to the audience when moving forward during the Brexit transition period.
“You have to take advantage of this moment. There’s an issue in front of you which is Brexit, and you have brought together different people from society to discuss how to face this issue.”
“In Greece, we didn’t have this luxury. It was like an earthquake happened overnight. Nothing worked the next day.”
“This discussion is really healthy and I wish you all the best.”
Jane Ollis, Director of Quvium UK and Chair of the Kent Institute of Directors, was another keynote speaker at this years summit. She gave a presentation sharing her experience of managing a technology start-up company in Kent, whilst also outlining how disruptive innovation can be a crucial next step for any UK business wishing to trade successfully globally.
“We have to be optimistic about the future.”
“The quality of hope and optimism are really huge, and it’s how we can constructively approach problem solving.”
“We want everyone to be optimistic in creating a stronger future for Kent businesses.”
Ollis later joined a group of experts for a ‘Question and Answer’ panel discussion led by Louise Stewart; former Political Editor for BBC South East and current Head of Communications FSB.
Ollis was asked by Stewart if she would support the idea of a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, to which she responded: “I know that this is just my opinion, but Brexit was a huge mistake. I would absolutely support the idea [of a second referendum].”
This comes during a week which saw former UKIP leader Nigel Farage come out in favour of a second referendum, because of the claim he makes that it would “destroy” the remain camp.
University Vice-Chancellor Karen Cox closed the day’s proceedings by emphasising the overall aims and objectives of the summit.
“I think events like these are really important, because it not only outlines and communicates ideas, but is also brings people together of the same and shared interests.”
“We must make sure we make a commitment to work together with Kent businesses and take forward the ideas that come out of this conference.”
Cox went on to talk about the role that the University plays in the county, and how it is supporting the government’s Industrial Strategy Plan that sets out a long term plan to boost the productivity and earning power of people throughout the UK in a post-Brexit Britian.
David Smith, Director of Economic Development at Kent County Council, told InQuire that the program ahead will help to improve sectors such as health, education and business, and that it will help to make a success of Brexit.
“We have a clear plan. We do not just have a plan, but a future in which everyone will have their own individual contribution on this.”
“Councillors will be working hard together for the next 12 months that lie ahead.”
Many people agreed that the summit was a good way for business leaders and experts to get a better understanding of how businesses and the county will be able to succeed at the current time of talks with Brussels.
Rehman Chishti MP Tweeted after the event, that he was: “Delighted to visit the University of Kent for the excellent Kent Business Summit 2018. Kent is a great county to do business, with immense history heritage culture and amazing opportunities for all.”