Since Article 50 was finally triggered, the only certainty appears to be uncertainty in the road ahead, particularly over the next number of months of negotiations. I must admit that while I am still disappointed at the decision and the potentially lost opportunities in Europe, the uncertainty is a little exciting and has my entrepreneurial juices flowing again.
To those of you who don’t know CCG, we have been helping UK companies and educational institutions work in the EU for the past 17 years. We are certainly going to be at the business end of events as they unfold and the nature of our work means that we will be in a unique position to shed light on happenings within the world of business and education as the negotiations progress.
To that end, we wanted to create a place where we could share our experiences and findings as the Brexit deal begins to take shape, as well as sharing some of the strategies that our clients are developing to cope with the changes. We also hope to highlight some of the initiatives that other European countries are developing as they seek to encourage UK companies to relocate.
I hope you find what follows interesting and useful, and perhaps even entertaining! Any comments or suggestions on things we have shared or things you would like us to cover are most welcome.
To begin, I thought it might be useful for me to briefly outline our story as a business and how we have sought to manage the business post-Brexit, including highlighting some of the issues and opportunities we are already seeing. Don’t worry this series of blogs will not be focusing on our business, but for those who have never heard of CCG, it might be useful to understand a little about our experience and why we feel qualified to comment.
I started the business back in 2000 after the dot-com bubble burst. I wanted to create a business which could help UK companies engage in the Central and Eastern European markets which were due to join the EU in 2004. We set up offices across the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and began to service clients from the UK who wanted to sell there, or to have products made or developed in these markets.
For the first seven years, we only worked in the Baltic States, and built a successful but small niche consultancy employing about 12 people. Clients varied from big blue-chip organisations through to very early stage companies, and spanned almost every business sector.
Then in 2007, the world economy imploded and the Baltic States were the worst hit markets in Europe, with GDP dropping by over 20%. We believed in them, so did not leave, but instead looked at other markets to work in, and opened offices in Russia, Italy and Romania. The new markets allowed us to go back to existing clients who we had helped, and offer them opportunities in new markets. This also helped us to increase our offering to UK companies and grow our client base.
We also decided to focus efforts on developing services which we had been successfully delivering for UK universities, helping them to win profitable international work, as universities tend to be less effected by economic conditions than businesses. This quick reaction saved the business and allowed us to grow.
In 2013, we won a major award from SCDI (presented by Madeline Albright – a huge hero of mine) for the work we did, helping smaller companies internationalise, and all seemed well with the world. We had opened another couple of offices across Europe, and had formed a strategic partnership with a Portuguese business development consultancy called Market Access, which gave us great people who are just as committed to customer service as we are. This allowed us to support companies right across the globe.
Brexit Blues and Taking a Gamble
Then the 23rd June came. I could not believe the result. Over the next month things got really bad, our order book disappeared as companies put projects on hold or cancelled them altogether. Cash flow tightened, and the majority of our staff were based out in the Baltic States and Romania, where it was clear that we were not be going to be delivering the volume of work we had been. It became clear that we had to act fast.
First, we needed new markets, so we gambled and opened an office in Chicago in the US. We knew UK companies would be looking there, and as luck would have it a colleague whom I have worked with for over 20 years, and is from Chicago became available to head up the office. We also decided to formalise our partnership with Market Access, integrating their team with our client management team in the UK and allowing us to rapidly grow our reach into South America, Asia, Africa and Western Europe.
This meant that we needed to rationalise costs, so we took our own advice and formed a partnership with a major consultancy based in Central and Eastern Europe called CIVITTA where they integrated our team into theirs. This allowed us to retain the experience of our staff, safeguard their jobs and increase the scope of what we could offer clients in the region, a real win-win situation.
We also realised that the education sector was really struggling to cope with the uncertainties of Brexit, so have been listening to their needs and working with them to develop strategies to navigate this new chapter.
Cautious Optimism for the Road Ahead?
As the saying goes, in the midst of difficulty lies opportunity, and I am certain that Brexit is no different. We have helped our highly entrepreneurial clients to navigate challenging financial and political climates in the past, by helping develop strong internationalisation strategies. Fortune favours the bold and I am optimistic about our future, and the futures of our clients.