At our annual leadership dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on the 4th March, we were delighted to welcome our keynote speaker, Keith Cochrane, Chief Executive of the Weir Group Plc, who addressed nearly 150 Chairmen, Chief Executive, Non-Executive Directors and Advisers on the challenges of growing an international business from Scotland.
Keith defined the key challenges as:
- The Growth Challenge – how do you ensure that as your business grows globally, you are devolving responsibility to the best local managers?
- The Consistency Challenge – In a world of more than 200 countries and countless more cultures and customs, how do companies and their leaders ensure they always do business the right way, wherever they operate?
- And, the Agility Challenge – In an increasingly globalised world, how do businesses maintain their ability to respond quickly to fast changing markets?
Keith spoke about his own experiences within the Weir Group PLC, which, from its family business beginnings in Glasgow in 1871, has grown into one of the world’s leading engineering businesses as a FTSE 100 company with over 15,000 employees and operating in 70 countries.
He discussed some of the particular challenges and opportunities the Weir Group PLC, which now generates 96% of revenues out with the UK, has faced over recent years. He expressed the view, shared by many business leaders in the lively debate which followed, that Scottish businesses need to look outside their own borders if they want to scale up their success, arguing that “no nation, and certainly not one of five million people, can claim a monopoly on good ideas. Working with others across the world gives access to the best minds and is a great source of competitive advantage.”
One pertinent example Keith gave of where the Weir Group PLC has much to learn from the knowledge of its international colleagues is the commercialisation of shale gas in the UK. Keith sounded a note of caution to the assembled business leaders, acknowledging that while shale gas is a controversial subject, “spin is beating science in the debate on shale gas.” The Scottish Government has announced a moratorium on granting planning consents for hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – the method by which shale gas is extracted – until a full public consultation is carried out alongside further research into its potential public health and environment implications. Keith’s comments, picked up by the Scotsman newspaper, underlined his wider point that embracing new technologies is an essential component of success for companies who wish to balance a growing business with the need to stay agile and competitive in a global economy.
Following Keith’s keynote speech, described by guests as “thrilling and inspirational,” passionate round table discussions were hosted by the assembled business leaders over dinner, and the evening closed with a stimulating question-and answer-session led by Keith.