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Testing Times

Sarah Spivey, the managing director of Modulift, reacts to the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, returns to Vertikal Days (with a brolly) and takes an exam.

There’s only one place to start this month’s blog. Last Thursday (23 June 2016), the UK voted to Leave the European Union (EU) with 51.9% of the votes versus the 48.1% who wished to Remain. A bumper 72.2% turnout demonstrated the extent to which the referendum captured the public’s imagination. I wondered throughout the campaign process, as we endured months of mud-slinging from both camps, how much the public considered the importance of the vote and the implications of putting a X in one box or the other. And now in the aftermath, it remains unclear who the winners and losers really are.

This isn’t a political blog, so I’m not going to go into what way I voted or what my company’s board would have preferred to see happen. Truth is, we’ve got to get on with it now. However, what I will acknowledge is that the result of the referendum has put the nation, indeed, the world, in a state of flux. We’ve spent a long time coming to terms with the oil and gas slump, but optimism was starting to return, while many were going as far as to suggest we were only six to nine months away from something of a rebound. That positivity has been stalled by the Brexit vote and we’re keeping our fingers crossed it hasn’t been derailed completely.

The trouble with markets and economies is they don’t follow set guidelines or defined rules. It isn’t always clear how they’ll react. They could give you a hug one minute and punch you in the face the next. What is certain is that markets don’t like uncertainty. Regardless of how you package the results of the referendum, these have become very uncertain times. Nobody can even say when exactly we’re coming out of the EU, for example, let alone the short and long term repercussions of doing so. There’s cloud cover, but will it clear to blue skies or develop into a raging thunder storm?

The shockwaves of the result—even many Leave voters and campaigners didn’t expect to win the day—have been felt in Europe and far beyond. As we woke to the news last Friday, the phone started to ring from the continent, further east and, later in the day, North America. Nobody was saying the result has definitively caused X, Y or Z, but everyone was unanimous in that it has created uncertainty and the risk profile has thusly been drastically altered.

Would you go ahead and buy a house today? Probably not. Translate that unease into business terms. We started the week here in the UK with news that the next stage in selling Tata Steel’s operations have been delayed due to the Brexit vote. Not only are the bidding companies digesting the news, the banks and investors behind them are monitoring the risk attached to investments. Nobody has publicly run for the hills, but it doesn’t matter. Even the slightest murmurs of discontent create an uneasy feeling.

Modulift has been abuzz since the result was announced, just like millions of companies of all sizes across the world. It’s important to keep a level head as a business leader, while addressing the issues. Honestly, I for one was surprised by the outcome of the vote so we had to plan quickly to communicate with staff. We didn’t want to create any unnecessary alarm among employees that could be transferred to the marketplace, but we had to prepare people for certain scenarios to ensure they reacted accordingly. We’ve already seen a couple of projects become subject to delay, while parts of other supply chains have suggested they expect to see price reductions to offset potential volatility. As a board of directors, burying our heads in the sand and pretending that isn’t happening would be naive.

In or out

I’ve never known a debate to split opinion so greatly, even within households and families. Unlike with a general election, it was hard to anticipate what way people were going to vote based on their profession or background. I attended the Vertikal Days show earlier in the month, where they conducted a poll of attendees and the result was 58.7% to Leave, 30.1% to Remain and 11.2% Undecided. Just under 600 of the 2,400 or so visitors posted a vote.

It was a somewhat surreal show with the referendum and the Euros (a little football tournament taking place in France if you’re not a sports fan) featuring amid conversations about lifting equipment. The weather was also a hot (wet) topic as the majority of the show is in an outdoor area, exposed to northeast England’s elements. In fact, we last attended in 2008 and it rained constantly, so much so that it took eight years to pluck up the courage to return, albeit on the proviso we were in the protected exhibition area in the marquee!

Seriously though, it was opportune to have a renewed presence as part of ongoing efforts to further strengthen our relationships with the UK market. I was joined by Liam Botting, new business development manager and Jess Matthews, sales estimator, who got valuable face-to-face time with existing and prospective contacts. I know I’ve blogged about it before, but it’s worth reiterating the importance of getting in front of people in addition to using telephones and smart technology. Liam and Jess gained a great deal from the two-day show.

Credit is due to event hosts Vertikal, the publisher of Cranes & Access magazine and its German sister title, Kran & Bühne. Vertikal Days is well organised and features a networking party at the end of the first day, which has become synonymous with the event. I’d argue that the table format restricted somewhat the extent to which attendees could network, but that was a minor detail. Again, at the risk of repeating myself, I’d urge everyone to embrace the social element to events as much of the positivity we generated was over a drink and a bite to eat, as has been the case at many an event over the years.

We’ll definitely factor Vertikal Days into future trade show plans. Elsewhere, we’ve had positive experiences at the AWEA Windpower show in New Orleans, where Liam and Sophie Briggs, our marketing executive, represented us. It’s an exciting sector with wind emerging as an essential new energy dynamic, especially in light of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Power Plan, designed to strengthen the fast-growing trend toward cleaner and lower-polluting American energy.

Effective trade show strategy includes what events to avoid as well as attend. It certainly isn’t about squeezing 52 expos into a year. Take Breakbulk Europe, for example. We attend the Asian version of the event but find the European fair too large and sprawling for a below-the-hook equipment manufacturer. Until we make further inroads into the super heavy sector, we won’t take an exhibition presence there.

Swotting

Having completed the final exam of my Chartered Director Programme at the Institute of Directors (IOD) last week, I guess I’m experiencing the same emotions as those who have just completed their GCSEs, A-levels, AS-levels, degrees and diplomas. I have learnt an incredible amount over the last six months or so, even in topics that I thought I already knew a lot about, such as finance, marketing and leadership.

Confronted with my first question in the quiet of the examination room at IOD headquarters near Trafalgar Square in London, I was relieved that I had planned properly. I’ve urged readers of this blog before about embracing further education and taking courses, but it’s worth imploring with those who do take my advice to go one step further and prepare properly for examinations and presentations, upon which final marks will be decided. When it came to the question about statutes, I was glad I stayed up that extra hour on a few occasions swotting over my notes!

Not only does efficient revision ensure one has access to the facts and information when it’s called upon, it also means a participant can go into an examination with confidence. I wasn’t bounding around the corridors of the IOD on the morning of the test, but I knew I had done myself justice and prepared the best I could—or at least as much as the company and family made reasonably possible. I was calm even when the questions got tough and, as a result, I probably eked out a few more points. I need 50% to get a pass so I’m anxiously awaiting the results.

Stay tuned on Twitter—@ModuliftUK—for new product announcements and other news. Use the hashtag #belowthehook to engage. You can see the blog archive at Modulift.com/Blog

Sarah Spivey
Managing Director
Modulift
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