Alderman & Sheriff Professor Michael Mainelli FCCA FCSI(Hon) FBCS, Executive Chairman, Z/Yen Group, Tuesday, 24 November 2020, via Zoom, on the occasion of the first Installation Dinner as Company rather than Guild
“Company Of Crowbars”
Master, Alderman, Visiting Masters, Wardens, Freemen, Honoured Guests, Ladies & Gentlemen,
It is dangerous to tell jokes at a video-conference installation dinner. When you begin to tell one everybody starts to giggle, which is heartening, so you keep going. The laughter continues to build. Thus encouraged, you go further. How they laugh. You feel great. Wait till they hear the punchline. Then you realise your microphone is on mute.
Your Immediate Past Master, Rick Lowe, has led you well through a momentous year to becoming a Company in difficult times. Your new Master, Lars Andersen, may have to lead you through a tougher one as the economic ravages of the current pandemic truly bite. I know Lars as a World Trader, where he and his equally industrious wife Jenifer are renowned as people you can rely upon, whether it is masterminding a musical Guinness World Record or poking fun at the Master with an oversized English Heritage blue plaque, not fired on enamel or drop moulded on metal. Naturally Lars printed the blue plaque on a three foot name tag. Lars is an exceptional individual in so many ways, from his deep business study and thinking to his entrepreneurial flair, his love of languages, and his immense contributions to charity. You couldn’t be in better hands and I am honoured that he asked me to address you this evening. You are a most fortunate company.
And we, the City, are most fortunate to have you Entrepreneurs amongst us, many of whom I count as friends from the Todiwalas to the Taylors and Hewitts, and departed founders such as Paul Judge or Dan Doherty. On behalf of the civic team I thank you for your immense generosity and support of the Lord Mayor and the civic charities. But the Entrepreneurs contribute much more than money and time, it’s your enthusiasm and can-do attitude that we treasure. All big firms started as small firms. Take Bloomberg, which I’ve known since inception in 1981. A handful of people created today’s 2020 giant in less than four decades. Entrepreneurs inspire everyone.
Opening the Leadenhall Christmas lights, I saw again the deserted City we need to restart. I can tell you of a man who went to a Leadenhall optician last week for his annual eye test. The optician put him in front of the autorefractor, and asked him what he could see. “I see empty airports, empty football grounds, closed theatres, closed pubs”. “That’s perfect”, said the optician, “you’ve got 2020 vision”.
We all want a different vision in 2021, a real Drapers event in Broad Street ward, not a virtual one via California, however well-orchestrated by your admirable Clerk & Beadle with Fiona-Jane.
We must acknowledge the need for change. In 2020, against a backdrop of Brexit and Climate Change, Britain was counting on entrepreneurs to improve technology, productivity, and trade. Adding covid-19 to the mix you get BCC, Brexit, Climate Change, and Covid. BCC, front and centre challenges, not BCC blind carbon copy.
2020 accelerated two obvious, but overlooked, trends. The first is video-conferencing – Entrepreneurs try out new technology early. Many of us had videoconferencing in the 1990’s, Skype and Jitsi date from 2003. What we’ve learned is not that video-conferencing works, rather the powerful changes it engenders are massively reinforced when everyone does it together. The second trend is reduced business travel due to climate change – in 2019 in Scandinavia, a boom year, flygskam, translated as ‘flight shaming’, reduced business travel by about 8%. This unprecedented drop showed every sign of spreading, until covid-19 reduced all travel by approximately 80% this year.
Unlike the remark falsely attributed to George W Bush, I know the French have a word for entrepreneur, it means ‘door opener’. As a fluent French speaker, your Master knows it comes from the French ‘entrée’, to enter, and ‘preneur’, prise the door open with a crowbar. 😊
There are two milquetoast strategies for our City:
- return-to-normal, i.e. wait-and-see.
- convert to residential, roll the clock back two centuries on the most intense and dense business meeting place in the world.
There is a crowbar strategy:
- become the dominant international deal centre.
I know Entrepreneurs won’t choose wait-and-see, nor watching our business centre become a residential, second-class Westminster. Post-covid, we need to grab a bigger market share of a shrinking market – You want to crowbar our way through the door to the pre-eminent physical global coffee shop for ideas and entrepreneurs.
Taking this seriously might mean:
- A Ring of Health reinforcing the Ring of Steel. The City of London becomes the safest business gathering place on the planet. Spray gates & ozone disinfectors, dry hydrogen peroxide emitters, face masks, sanitisers, and testing, with free treatment if you contract covid-19 on your business trip to the City of London.
- Marketing workations. The City of London becomes the world’s workation nerve centre, working closely with airlines and tourist agencies to treble business tourism.
- Supporting deal-makers. Being so slick with flexible services, online media, video-conferencing, and directories, we make London the only sensible stop a road warrior needs.
Covid is a time of great risk, and thus great rewards, tailor-made for Entrepreneurs. I saw this in the Old Bailey in March. Our multi-year Cloud Video Platform project for the Central Criminal Court was being risk-managed, i.e. it was going slowly. Suddenly, the project was fast-tracked. When the first lockdown suspended new jury trials, urgent and essential hearings in the Old Bailey were conducted through Skype. It took a while to ramp-up the tech and training, but instead of years, the project was complete by early summer. By taking on a bit of risk tossing out parts of the rule book, the Recorder’s team achieved great rewards.
More than ever, the City’s future success depends on our ability to serve global clients competitively by taking on more risks. That future was the focus of the City’s ‘London Recharged’ report last month.
Speaking of recharging, have you noticed how recycling has changed due to Covid? Back in 2019 when you met your neighbours at the recycling bin clanking bags of empty wine bottles you nervously said, “Haha, I swear I’m not an alcoholic, I just had a party.” Today in 2020 you nervously say, “Haha, I swear I didn’t have a party, I’m just an alcoholic.”
We’ve been here before; we’ll be here again. The City is always about continuity and change, conducting our rituals while seeking to renew our relevance. Entrepreneurship is the crucial crowbar to open our future.
Please do turn off your mute button and join me for the first ever formal toast to the COMPANY of Entrepreneurs, coupled with the name of the Master, Lars Andersen. “To the Company of Entrepreneurs, may it flourish root and branch, with its Master Lars Andersen”.