Take a moment to look up at the sky. Is it still there? Whatever your views on Brexit – and it will remain a vexed and divisive subject for a long time to come – the heavens did not fall in after the momentous vote by Britons to leave the European Union. The world did not stop. The sun still continues to rise and set each day.
Of course, the pound took a real battering on international exchange rates, though that makes our exports cheaper. And many people and institutions were initially stunned into momentary inertia, like rabbits caught in headlights. But the much touted sudden meltdown of the UK economy did not happen. Markets quickly rallied.
Latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that UK car output actually went up to a 16 year high, exceeding a million vehicles for the first seven months of the year for the first time in a dozen years, rising 12.3 per cent for the period and 7.6 per cent for July alone.
But let’s be in no doubt, our world changed forever and in post-Brexit Britain we have to accept and live with that, and manage it to the best of our abilities. That is as true in recruitment and executive search as with the companies and individuals in the automotive sector who use our services.
So how is it looking three months in?
Firms are still hiring. Business is still brisk. Did the world come to an end? No. Have things slowed down? No. But did something change fundamentally? Yes, absolutely. And the biggest challenge is leadership.
Just as in the aftermath of the recession a decade go, firms needed a new type of leader to get them through it. The skills needed to navigate the challenges ahead are different. One might even draw contrasting parallels with Winston Churchill’s heroic wartime leadership of the nation and, following his initial landslide defeat in the 1945 election, his patchier post-war peacetime tenure in Downing Street. The skills needed are not the same.
Car companies, particularly in Britain and Europe, will be fighting it out for market share. Their leaders will have to stay light on their feet and nimble to manage the changes ahead in uncertain times, and still make money. Being good enough is no longer good enough. They have to be much better. We’re talking here of skills, not job titles.
Such exceptional leaders are rare and in high demand, but supply is limited. So we are seeing a lot more employers looking hard at the talent landscape. But they can struggle to gain access to those exceptional candidates when they need to. How can they capture their attention? They need to start – or to have started - early.
That’s why it is vitally important to keep in touch with talented individuals as they rise through the ranks and always look two years ahead. Call it ‘talent planning’. It’s a vital line of communication that should always be kept open, even if only for an informal chat from time to time. But when, and if, you make that all-important phone-call to tempt them onto pastures new, you can be pretty confident they’ll at least pick-up and give you a fair hearing.
Good candidates are always just below the radar. The are not actively seeking a new role. They are engrossed in the one they have. However, they may become passive job-seekers if the right opportunity is put before them.
There’s another knock-on effect from those who might, before the Brexit vote, have been tempted to throw their hat into the ring for a new challenge. Now they are playing it more cautiously and are perhaps reluctant to move on to a new challenge while there’s still an air of uncertainty. Better the devil you know?
The SMMT insists it’s ‘business as usual for the foreseeable future’’ and manufacturers with bases in the UK have broadly echoed that line for the short and medium term. But what of investment decisions and job prospects in the longer term, a subject on which they have been reluctant to be drawn? As the British economist John Maynard Keynes once wryly observed of the perils and uncertainties of trying to predict and plan too far ahead: ‘In the long run we’re all dead’.