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Simon Walker

A Thriving European Business Community

Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors (IoD) watches with concern what’s happening in the Eurozone. The IoD is Europe’s largest organization for business leaders. Among its members are some of the most skilled and influential world leaders, from start-up entrepreneurs to directors in the public sector to CEOs of multinationals.

We meet at one of IoD’s premises – 116 Pall Mall – a magnificent Crown Estate building in the heart of the West End of London.

What are the conversations like on the topic “Europe”?
“The IoD has over 40,000 individual members, so we represent a cross section of the whole of British business, from SMEs to the FTSE 100. Therefore, opinions vary. I think though, as do most British businesses, that IoD members recognize Europe as a principal market.

“We are deeply effected by it, so we can’t afford to be completely detached from it.”

Does the IoD take positions?
“We take a position on issues that are of concern to the business community, such as when taxes on aviation make Europe a more expensive place to fly than the rest of the world. We are big believers in Jacques Delors’ concept of subsidiarity – a belief that decision-making ought to be made at the most local possible level. We respect enormously the individual conscience and entrepreneurial practices in different member states of the EU, but also realize that they are very different. We feel there ought to be respect for individual approaches. Yes, we are worried about what some European Union institutions are putting forward in terms of ‘harmonization.’ I think there needs to be recognition that fiscal discipline and common economic values have to be shared in order to make a single currency work. And I have sympathy with the Germans who say ‘I don’t want to subsidize the Greek economy.’ The concept of solidarity, which is so freely talked about in Europe, isn’t universally shared in Europe I’m afraid... Basically I’m not a believer in regulation. Regulation should only be imposed where it’s absolutely necessary. People should be free to operate as they wish.

“I would say, realistically, there’s no prospect of Britain joining the euro in my lifetime,”

And what about leadership and entrepreneurship?
“Strategic direction, that has to be the primary responsibility of a leader. But the most important aspect is integrity and the recognition of responsibility to society, the company itself and people. I use the word ‘stewardship’ a lot. It’s fundamentally vital to be honest, but it’s not enough: you have to be attentive and aware. There must be a commitment to the well-being. Leadership is also about future generations. The IoD is focussing on the next generation of IoD members. I think the most exciting thing that a young person can do is to start up a new business, to pursue a new idea. Starting up an enterprise after leaving university is much more exciting than going into established organizations. We should stimulate that! We can’t beat our Asian competitors on the base of cheap labor; we can only succeed on the base of ideas and entrepreneurial skills.

“An opportunity for Europe? To stimulate young people to start up their own businesses”

What can the IoD contribute to Europe?
“Perspective on governance issues, on the responsibilities of directors, on liberal enterprise trading issues: the IoD can be a partner on all of these issues. We have branches in EU countries – in Belgium, in the Netherlands – and we are very keen to develop that. I want the IoD to be a leader in corporate governance issues on an international basis. Britain and Holland have always had a strong commercial relationship through companies like Philips, Shell and Unilever. That historic link as big traders, free traders, has been particularly important, and demonstrates a special relationship between our countries.

“My aim is to bring to the IoD the most talented and able young people I can find.”

Marianne van Munster, Senior Program Director (Associated) (m.vanmunster@debaak.nl)

Look here  for the online magazine in which this artcle was published.


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