Artificial intelligence, demographic disruption and the urgent state of the climate all featured on the agenda at our annual Portfolio Day: Pioneers of Progress, in London’s Ham Yard Hotel.
Addressing a crowd of almost 200 chief executives and chairs, BGF’s Stephen Welton spoke of the need for businesses to have a sense of purpose in order to stay ahead in an ever-changing world.
Stephen championed the potential of British companies and reiterated the importance of determination: “It looks like 2019 will be a tougher economy, but investment mustn’t slow down. Entrepreneurs will continue to adapt as they always do.”
The power of pioneers
Kicking off the afternoon, campaigner and PR consultant Michael Hayman chaired a Q&A session with some of the UK’s most celebrated entrepreneurs and thought-leaders. Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen, Jason Stockwood, Global CEO of Simply Business, Will Butler-Adams, MD of Brompton and Stephen Murphy, chairman of OVO and BGF non-exec director all took to the stage to discuss how pioneering businesses are driving progress.
“Quite simply, I wanted to build a business I wanted to work in. Most entrepreneurs don’t start off thinking they’re going to build billion-dollar companies,” said Jason, tackling the motivations for scaling up. “They see something they are dissatisfied with and try to fix it – this is what makes entrepreneurs get out of bed.
He added that investors who looked at businesses simply as cash-cows needed to change their approach. “The winners in the investment community will be the investors who will value the purpose behind a company, not just the profit.”
Paul spoke about the importance of purpose when it comes to motivating teams. “A business doesn’t really exist, what exists is people with an aligned view on what they want to achieve together. That’s how you get the best out of people.” Brompton boss Will reiterated the commercial benefits of bringing progress: “The potential for business to contribute to society is off the chart and as our customers become more aware – they won’t accept businesses that don’t think about society. There is commercial and ethical opportunity at the same time.”
BGF is a pioneer of progress itself, said Stephen Murphy. “BGF was always clear about its purpose from the start – we’re not a fund, we’re an institution – we’re a permanent fixture in the investment landscape, totally committed to the small business community.”
Inspiring ideas for the future
Next up: the big ideas shaping the future of business. Economist and former presidential advisor Dr Pippa Malmgren delivered a powerhouse speech on the need to prepare for change. “Prediction is a mugs game,” she said. “It opens you up to be blindsided. Instead, we must focus on preparedness. Being prepared will make you agile, flexible and quick to adapt.”
Change was also the focus for Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, Sir Anthony Seldon. He spoke about the impact AI will have on education and how this also has significance for business leaders and entrepreneurs. “In future we will need AI to teach young people – but all of you are students. If you’re not recognising our need to learn all of the time, you can’t lead organisations.”
Academic Dr Eliza Filby spoke about the shift in attitudes the next generation has towards business and how companies will need to adapt: “The rules have changed. Businesses assume they are the brand but social media has turned consumers into brands – Generation Z has been curating, spinning and telling the stories of their lives – they see themselves as brands and they’re looking for products and services that certify that brand and enhance that brand. This is B2B, not B2C.”
With an inspiring end to a brilliant day, Futurologist Mark Stephenson took to the stage to talk about the urgent necessity for business to start solving big societal challenges such as climate change: “The environment is starting to send back invoices. Any investment that doesn’t commit to protecting the environment is not an investment, it’s a cost to our future.”
He finished with a rallying cry for those in the room to make a difference: “Not all heroes wear capes. In fact, most of them look a lot like you.”