2019 Symposium Recap 

Impact on a different level 

Hundreds of representatives from 136 of Ireland’s premier companies gathered in the Convention Centre Dublin on Friday 1st March 2019 for Deloitte’s Best Managed Companies Awards symposium. An annual gathering, this event marks an opportunity for businesses from every county in Ireland to gather, learn and network with their peers.

After a hearty breakfast, delegates were treated to a line-up of keynote speeches, breakout sessions, and panel discussions on some of the most important issues facing Irish companies today.

Chief among the topics addressed on the day was Brexit, in recognition of the impact that it is already having and will continue to have on the business environment for most companies in Ireland. Beyond Brexit, seminars also covered the role of wellness in performance; the future of work; and an issue that is increasingly pertinent for companies, cybercrime.   

Opening the proceedings, Dr Simon Boucher, Chief Executive of the IMI shared his insights based on the four key pillars of the Best Managed programme including: financial, strategy, capabilities and commitment.  He talked about uncertainty in the wider macro financial environment; and the issue of data overload, observing that we now absorb 6 newspapers worth of information a day, through emails, voicemails. Finally, he emphasised the need to work more collaboratively in order to perform at our best, noting that “Hustle Culture”, another word for workaholism, is a recipe for disaster.

Picking up on the theme of well-being in the first session, Dr John Briffa talked about strategies for optimising individual and organisational wellbeing, pointing out that people with energy are more productive, happier and they perform better, thus making wellbeing a key metric for success in an organisation. Stress in the workplace can lead to absenteeism, reduced moral, increased turnover, and reduced productivity, and with such stress on the rise in Ireland, Dr Briffa urged companies to ensure balance in their employees’ lives, for their own benefit and that of the business.

Brexit was next on the agenda with a panel made up of Deloitte Partner, David Carson; Loretta O’Sullivan, Chief Economist, Bank of Ireland; John Cronin, British Irish Chamber and Paul Tierney, Extraspace Solutions covering topics such as uncertainty, preparedness and the many supports that exist for businesses to help them to navigate Brexit from both Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia. The overall sense was that the uncertainty is costing and the preparedness is just not there as yet for many companies, however that said, they felt that Irish companies are more prepared than UK firms.

The panel discussed potential outcomes including; no deal; deal or no Brexit, but ultimately shared the view that no matter what the outcome, our economy is going to be impacted negatively.  It will reduce trade, there will be less investment, migration and that will have an impact on productivity and labour and therefore impact on our potential to grow. On a more positive note though, panellists noted that even in the midst of Brexit, there are opportunities, in that a challenge forces us to think differently and to go beyond what we know.

Deloitte Partner and former Head of Europol Rob Wainright delivered a pre-lunchtime session on one of the omnipresent threats facing business today, cybercrime. Business thrives in today’s digitalised world, with technology transforming the way they develop and produce, accelerating transactions and trade and optimising transportation and logistics.

However, in tandem, the scale, sophistication and impact of today’s cyber threats are increasing, and digitalisation is converging criminal activity, allowing them to maximise operations at a global scale. Large scale financial gain is up for grabs in this new digitally enabled criminal economy and in response collaboration across industry will have the most effectiveness. In the face of this threat, Wainright advocated recognising and admitting your vulnerability to cyber-attack and showing vision, leadership and confidence in taking preventative action.

After lunch, delegates broke into smaller groups for a range of breakout sessions. Deloitte’s Valerie Daunt led a session on the future of work, with advice on how to become a “simply irresistible” organisation. She also returned to John Briffa’s theme of the overwhelmed employee, noting that how we approach people strategies needs to be different. The employee needs to be king.

Paula Mullin led a session on executive presence, giving attendees the tools to help them to identify their emotional triggers, allowing them to respond rather than react to work situations. Next door, Michael Shiel in a session on executing strategy, challenged attendees to consider what they were going to do for their customers that is better than anyone else?

The closing keynote address of the symposium was delivered by international technology expert Nancy Rademaker who spoke of the clash between the “old normal” and “new normal” in today’s technology driven world. Digitising is not a response strategy to this however, as in a decade, we will be facing a brand new “normal” all over again. Companies will again be selling different products to different customers in different ways. As humans we have a resistance to change, and we need overcome this.

Nancy detailed the strategy to survive in this new normal, and it may not come as a surprise that at its core is customer centric thinking. She extolled the “virtuous circle” of AI - smarter data, smarter product, happier customer, better sales, but maintained that while we should automate as much as we can in areas that make sense, there will always be aspects of businesses where only humans can make a customer truly happy.

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