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16th May 2017

Taking to the stage for this event was panel host, Jonathan Straight, along with Ajaz Ahmed, Jonathan Allan, Gordon Black CBE, Johnny Caddick and Margaret Casely-Hayford.

The Billion Pound Panel is set up in a BBC Question Time style format, giving people in the audience the chance to ask anything they feel is relevant to the business community.

1. If you’re a business leader you will have a mentor, in the UK this is seen as a failure and that you need help. How would the panel change this perception?

Gordon Black is the first to comment and mention that when you have a person who would like to mentor and provide skills and experience that this should not be underestimated or discouraged.

He is involved in a company that will mentor and finance start-up businesses that have real potential allowing them to penetrate their markets quicker. He also mentors at university and explains that there is nothing wrong with showing your support for STEM subjects. Gordon feels that we should be obligated to go in to universities to let them know that it is good to be an entrepreneur and to be a skilled craftsman.

Margaret Casely-Hayford, an ambassador for Board Apprentice, which makes a link between senior managers and boards so that people who perhaps wouldn’t consider sitting on a board do so, comments that mentoring is the future.

Britain is so great at innovation but we need to support and nurture the talents of those who are younger. Taking mentoring into schools is just one of the services that Margaret champions.

She believes there needs to be a cultural shift in schools and universities to give people the right support at the right time to stop the ‘same people’ achieving and others considering themselves to be an ‘also-ran’.

Ajaz Ahmed left school at 16 and didn’t have a mentor. He feels that he learnt most through the power of observation, which allowed him to consider the mistakes of those around him so that he didn’t do the same.

2. Board relationships. What an FD does is changing and this has made relationships all the more complex. How has this impacted on the panel?

Johnny Caddick comments that his finance director went from a passive role to being front and centre during the challenges that faced the property market during the recession. As a result, everything now revolves around him and as property works around finance, the two have to go hand in hand. The business has had to bring in money from the middle-east which means that this process needs to be managed closely.

All property investments are different so the FD growth progression is huge and fundamentally underpins the need for this role to evolve and to support the business during periods of growth.

Jonathan Allan comments that the worst FD’s will simply count the money. He suggests that people within these roles need to be more risk accepting than risk averse. It is really important that they don’t take no for an answer and that they also become more commercial.

Due to the changing nature of the role and the great reassurance that an FD can bring to a business which drives growth and innovation, this makes the position far more significant in companies of all sizes.

3. Is there really such a concept as Yorkshire business or is there just aspirational businesses that happen to be successful?

Gordon mentions that Yorkshire is a great advantage and that even abroad this has impacted on his business positively.
Ajaz comments that even abroad he had attracted attention with one businessman immediately recognising the Yorkshire pudding when he mentioned where he was from. There are lots of counties in the country that have great things to offer but people don’t necessarily know what they are or what that particular place stands for.

Yorkshire resonates with people and they know where it is and what positive attributes derive from the county. We need to get people to come to Yorkshire so that they understand the benefits of doing business here. Once they are here, they will understand said Ajaz.

Johnny says that Buy Yorkshire in particular is an excellent event and that you simply don’t get the cohesion in London as everyone is so disengaged. When you see what happens here the transformation and growth opportunities are greater than they are in London he suggests.

He adds, we certainly play on the Yorkshire brand and we feel that it resonates with those that we are encouraging to invest in property.

Gordon said that we need to take a step back and look at what will be the successes of the future in the region such as STEM skills and innovation, allowing us to move forward and to encourage people to become the entrepreneurs of the next generation. People are investing billions of pounds to make Yorkshire a place to work and grow and we need to take advantage of that.

4. I’m a new business start-up. Looking at you incredible business people how do you get the work life balance right?

Margaret mentions that it takes an awful lot more than 9am-5pm to build up a business. But what is important is to know that things will go wrong and when that happens you will need your family and friends around you. You need to invest the time and effort in them to make sure that they are there when you need them.

It’s also really important to give yourself some time too. Your customers believe and invest in you, so it is important to keep it real and to invest in yourself. One tip is that life is too short to do the ironing!

Johnny took some advice from his father who said to him that you have to look at yourself like a building and a building has to stand up. The more pillars you have the more stable you will be. There are five pillars according to Johnny: work, relationships, family, friends and yourself.

Jonathan Allen gives some advice which is to make sure that work does not consume you and that you do take time out with friends and family. He comments that when you run a business or hold a senior position you need to work during the week and allocate real time to family at the weekend only that way will you ever achieve the balance you are looking for.

5. What are your thoughts and what do you feel the impact will be of artificial intelligence (AI) on each of the panels businesses?

Ajaz said that AI is something he knows a lot about and working in the legal sector he says that lawyers are not frightened of it because they don’t feel that it is ever going to happen. He also believes that it will take over much of what legal professionals do. One of the most amazing devices he has purchased over recent months is Amazon Echo.

AI is going to impact on most businesses whether people like it or not. People need to put in place the measures to manage the process concludes Ajaz.

Gordon said that there are clear plusses and we must manage the minuses. He also has Alexa, which is the personality behind Amazon Echo, and mentions that the repercussions will be enormous but that we need to manage the downsides. It is coming and it is the future.

Margaret says that there is already a lot of information online and in particular from lawyers. It will rock the world but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing – it could be really exciting. It will change the world and we need to be prepared for that.

It will also support healthcare, as an example why go to a GP if all you need is a repeat prescription says Margaret. Of course there will be hacking but once we all understand our own role in it, the less that it will impact on our day to day lives.

Jonathan says that he doesn’t feel that Alexa is as good as it could be but that in a number of years it will be amazing. He also questions whether TV will become more channel based and less programme based.

AI puts a better spin on editorially curated programming, which also allows viewers to expand their lives and to interact with things that you otherwise may not have considered.

Johnny comments that in building it is called prop tec, which involves how you access a building, how a building integrates with transport, as well as more typical expectations such as heating and lighting. In the day to day world there are also companies like Purple Bricks, which have changed the landscape.

The millennials will be the catalyst for the way in which people engage with property and they will embrace the opportunities that it presents. There will be lots of changes coming up that we can either ignore or embrace but the truth is that nothing is going to stop it.