July saw a change of Chair for pro-manchester. After holding the reins for the past year outgoing Chair Jane Forbes from PwC handed over to Alistair Cree from Eversheds-Sutherland at a very enjoyable lunch held at the Albert Square Chop House.
After an introduction from John Ashcroft, CEO of pro-manchester, Alistair took to the mike to outline his vision for the next year ahead for pro-manchester and it’s growing membership of over 300 professional services businesses. “In terms of what I want to talk about, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself and how I’ve become connected with pro-manchester and then I thought I would set out my thoughts on what I was hoping to focus on (and indeed achieve) in my year as Chair.
“I must admit that when I moved to Manchester I didn’t know a huge amount about the place. I had friends here, who all said it was great, I have vague memories of travelling down from University and going to various parties and so forth but, if I am being honest I probably thought that I would move to Manchester for a couple of years, and then perhaps move back to London.
“The thing is though that once I got here, and once I started working in the city, there was never any real moment that I ever wanted to move back. I soon realised that Manchester is not a second best to London, or frankly a second best to anywhere, rather it is a fantastic place to live and work, with its own unique cultural identity, unique vitality, drive and purpose. I want to see Manchester and its business community thrive on a world stage and being on the board and subsequently now as Chair gives me the opportunity to play my part.
“At its heart, pro-manchester is a business development organisation and the role of the chair (and indeed the exec) is to serve its members, to drive their interests (and the interests of the city generally) forward and to create opportunities for growth. To me, one of the key aspects of generating growth (and focusing on the future) is to ensure that young people, whether they be people coming out of Manchester’s universities (or indeed graduates from around the country, or internationally) view Manchester as a place they want to live and work, and this is something that I’d like to bring through as a theme in talking to you today.
“Half of the global population is under 25 and that whilst 25% of the workforce is currently under 25, within 10 years 40% of the workforce will be under 25. These young people are globally wired, entrepreneurial, collaborative and change-orientated, and we need to make Manchester and its business community relevant (and attractive) to them.
“So how can pro-manchester help in doing this?
“Technology resonates with people coming out of the universities. In my view, we need to harness the Universities we have in the city, the biotech firms, fintech and indeed investment community to help make Manchester, and indeed the region, become recognised as a national, if not world centre, for technology. I talk to a lot of businesses as part of my job, and quite a number of them are in the traditional manufacturing heavy industry sector. A notable trend is that these (traditional) businesses don’t describe themselves as being “industrial” or “manufacturing” businesses anymore, they describe themselves as technology companies because they recognise that is where the world is going.
“Manchester’s business community need to recognise this. The pace of change is tremendous and that is why I will try as much as I can to promote pro-manchester events within the tech, digital sector, social media and e-commerce sectors and to promote the concept of the city as a tech sector to the people I come into contact with. Promoting jobs within this sector will draw graduates / young people in and ultimately push the city forward. We, as members of the Manchester business community, need to me mindful of exploiting this.
“What else do I intend to focus on?
“I think that the we can leverage a vibrant professional services community to attract and retain the best graduates. The city already has a reputation, second only to London, for professional services. Some of the top law firms, accountancy firms, PE houses and corporate finance advisers in the country are based in Manchester, and we need rightly to promote this sector and drive it forward as much as possible. I think that this is particularly important at present, as there is a growing trend amongst graduates to value certain items above pure salary (which is something that does still set us apart from London). If we can promote Manchester to people coming through (whether they be part of the professional services community or in industry) as a city that can give you the best of both worlds – top rated work within an environment that ticks the boxes on the work/life balance, this is a powerful combination. We need to make Manchester famous for it.
“How can pro-manchester help here?
“Well, through linking the professional services community within Manchester (which was the genus of pro-manchester) with the business (non-professional services) members of pro-manchester (and the universities). To me at least, the “hook” here is pro-manchester’s sector programme, because it provides that initial linkage or reason to strike up a conversation. The programme expanded significantly this year, with hugely successful lunches covering the sports and hospitality, corporate finance, retail and e-commerce and property sectors.
“The third theme I’d like to touch on is co-operation. It seems to me that there are quite a number of different organisations which are purporting to promote Manchester in similar ways. It’s very important if we are promoting Manchester to graduates and businesses (both nationally and internationally) that we are co-ordinated in what we are saying. pro-manchester already has very well established links with the GMCA, MIDAS, City UK, the office of the metro mayor. Personally, I think it’s important to strengthen those links to ensure that we are all, frankly, singing from the same hymn sheet. I will play my part in bringing the pro-manchester message to some of these organisations, and listening to what they have to say, and bringing that back to you, the membership.
“The fourth area that I touch on is Transport. I whole-heartedly agree with the need to improve, significantly, the transport links within the North West. This is vital to Manchester. Part of what has driven Manchester forward over the past decade has been the success of the airport. It brings people in and facilitates the flow of investment into Manchester.
“I have clients who could invest in multiple different parts of the world but because there are direct air links between where they live abroad and Manchester, and they can have meetings here and it’s easy, they come to Manchester. The £1bn plus development of the new “super terminal” is great news for us all. The airport is however only one element of transport. We need to do something about the rail links, congestion and having more of an integrated transport policy.
“In many ways the city has become a victim of its own success – the infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the influx of businesses (and residential living) within the city and its suburbs. If we are going to promote Manchester as a great place to both live and work (as I believe we should), and to use this as a differentiator from London to technology companies, professional services and business generally, we need to make sure people can get around, can get in, can get out and can commute, because that sort of flexibility is what is attractive, or certainly one of the key things that is attractive, about living in Manchester.
“So how shall I measure success? I have outlined today some areas that I would like to focus on:
- Making Manchester more attractive to graduates, to people coming through,
- A focus on promoting technology and innovation in general within Manchester,
- Greater alignment between the various groups promoting the City,
- A continued push on promoting the strength of the professional services sector; and
- Support (in whatever guise that forms) for those pushing forward transport reform and infrastructure growth.
“These are all fairly lofty ambitions but they are vitally important in developing Manchester into what we, the members of pro-manchester, want it to be. A world city with a worldwide reputation that attracts and retains the best of talent. We all share the same collective ambition, to see our businesses grow and thrive. I am very proud of the City and if I can stand at the annual dinner in 12 months’ time and say how pro-manchester, under my Chair, has driven these objectives forward then I will be a happy man.”
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