Community is key to future of business

Features Posted 22/02/21
The head of the UK’s chambers of commerce believes it will be years before we fully appreciate how the world of work has been changed by the virus

A passionate belief in the community of businesses has kept Adam Marshall going through the pandemic.

Adam, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, admits he’s an optimist, but he has needed all his positive powers to support the “tens of thousands of businesses of all shapes and sizes” sheltering under the wing of the organisation, as wave after wave of bad news has hit the UK economy.

“It’s been an extraordinary year – and we’re far from out of the woods yet,” he tells me over a video call on a bright frosty morning. “It’s going to be three to five years before we truly understand how the world of work and the conduct of business has changed forever.”

It’s been a real mixed bag of fortunes. Some firms have found their feet and continued to grow, others are on the brink of closure, with no demand for their services, most are somewhere in the middle, muddling through the best they can, adapting to survive.

Change is on Adam’s immediate horizon. After 12 years with the chamber and more than four in the top role, he’s taking his leave to await a new challenge. He does not know yet what that will be, but he’s going to take a break and see what emerges.

I ask him how he views the state of UK business, almost a year after the pandemic hit.

“It’s been a real mixed bag of fortunes. Some firms have found their feet and continued to grow, others are on the brink of closure, with no demand for their services, most are somewhere in the middle, muddling through the best they can, adapting to survive.”

Standing protectively beside all these businesses is the national chamber organisation, supporting them from below are the local branches. Adam sees both sides as equally important to the UK economy and he’s clearly moved by how his teams have coped under difficult circumstances.

“We have 53 chambers across the country and 75,000 business members, from big corporations to start-ups. I could not be more proud of how our 1,600 employees have stepped up, when businesses needed them most. It has been truly eye-opening,” he said.

Adam explained how the chamber network operates. At a national level, it “ensures the voice and the needs of the business community is heard at the highest level”. For him, this means lots of meetings – online, since the pandemic, naturally – many with government ministers. Locally, chambers work together to create a network of support for companies in whatever way they need it.

So, as the vaccines continue to be rolled out and businesses at last begin to raise their eyes to prospects beyond the pandemic, where does the chamber fit in? Adam seems to sit straighter in his chair as he says: “We need to be there for whoever needs us, to continue to support companies in whatever way they want, to help restart, rebuild and renew the economy.”

An important part of that rebuilding and renewal will involve training new staff, particularly young people who have not had the chance of a job yet. Adam has been involved with creating the government’s Kickstart programme, offering 12,000 six-month placements for 16 to 24-year-olds on universal credit and sees it as a beacon of hope for this forgotten sector of the population.

Success will rely strongly on companies offering a placement and the chamber is working hard to promote the scheme. In fact, Adam is about to talk to the Minister for Work and Pensions, immediately after our chat.

I bring the interview to an end by asking how Adam relaxes from all these pressures. “My most important stress-buster is to get away from the computer and walk,” he says. “We’ve all discovered the need for nature.”

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