In this series we ask key spokespeople from across the region and from our core sectors to share their insights.
Recently, we spoke to KPMG’s Euan West, who heads up the firm’s 1,100 strong team in the region and whose colleague is our very own Enterprise Manager, Lizzie Smith, based at Nexus.
Your role gives you an oversight of many significant businesses in a wide range of industry sectors across the Yorkshire region, what patterns have you observed in the weeks since the COVID-19 crisis unfolded?
KPMG has a portfolio of clients that encompasses PLCs, AIM listed businesses, those in private ownership and others owned by private equity, spanning all the key sectors that make up the region’s economy. Increasingly we work with the businesses we call ‘emerging giants’ – enterprises with huge potential, that form a vital part of the Leeds business ecosystem, hence our relationship with Nexus.
Despite the variation in size and sector, many of these businesses have faced similar challenges in the past month or so. Initially we saw a rapid response phase focusing on financial security and protection against the uncertainty of a global pandemic. This was quickly followed by a period of operational challenge; dealing with the practicalities of a huge shift to remote working and the physical, HR and cyber security problems this created.
Towards the middle of May as operations settled in to the new normal, we saw a shift in focus to recovery and this is now the main concern of business leaders in all the companies I talk to. I hear about how businesses are tackling the practicalities and personal implications of the return to work for their people and infrastructure; the impact on supply chains and the prospect of new opportunities that all this change could engender.
The current situation has called for great speed in dealing with change – have you seen businesses rise to the challenge?
I have seen so many examples of businesses that have delivered phenomenal change successfully in the past couple of months, it has been impressive and heartening. COVID-19 has forced businesses to pivot in order to succeed – for some these may be temporary changes, but for others it has revealed new markets or ways of working that mean they might never return to their pre-COVID shape.
So many elements of how we all work have been impacted, from travel to meetings and how we use office space, to the value we place on human capital, which was previously defined by the minimum wage. This enforced change has shown all that can be done in the face of a crisis and, upsetting as the circumstances are, I hope we’ll take some learnings and be more open to change in less turbulent times in the future.
For the fleet-of-foot emerging giants – those businesses that make up Nexus’s membership and their peers – there could be much opportunity created by the need to deliver change globally. Their agility, their ideas and technologies, their capacity to explore new markets and deliver solutions through data and research and innovation (R&I) will be even more sought-after in a post-COVID world.
What concerns you most about the impact of COVID-19?
There is obviously much to be concerned about; we can’t spend our way out of this crisis, but we can’t cut our way out either. It would be great to think that a proportion of the cost savings businesses have made and may make in the coming months, could be re-deployed to aid innovation and investment, once recovery is established.
One thing I have observed throughout the time we have been dealing with the effects of the virus, is the importance of shared information and experience.
KPMG holds a weekly Leaders Circle Series roundtable call which was set-up to provide a shared forum for business leaders to discuss their concerns, challenges and ideas during the pandemic. It has been an overwhelmingly positive experience to chair these meetings – I quickly became redundant other than as a common contact with the capability to convene the participants. The members of the call have been open and collaborative, and it has proved to be a useful experience for all concerned.
One concern in the aftermath of COVID-19 is that we will need to work harder to create the peer-to-peer opportunities to discuss and spark off one another. Humans are social animals and we need to balance the new-found need for and acceptance of remote working and virtual meetings with opportunities to share and join forces.
Find out the latest information to help guide you through the advice and support schemes available in response to COVID-19 on our hub, including resources from KPMG.