Brexit has been a wake-up call for me and many other business people who deal in the commodities of creativity and innovation.
Once the shock of 24 June had subsided, there seemed little point in running to a darkened room and waiting around for Article 50 to be triggered. Instead, my natural inclination was to get straight on a plane and fly eastwards to chase the many exciting opportunities in architecture and design that exist outside the EU arena.
In recent years, DCMS estimates have put the UK’s export market for architecture at around £451m - and growing. But the goalposts are shifting.
British design firms now seem more affordable than their EU-based competitors as the value of sterling moves downwards, while clients are increasingly asking how UK practices can continue to attract the brightest talent from across the EU.
The reality is that there will be new agreements in the future, drawing on an established trading history, which will continue to give UK businesses a significant presence in overseas markets.
Many British brands have already amassed huge amounts of global equity and the UK’s departure from the EU will not change that. Investors are attracted to the enduring value in quality and innovation. These factors are constant, irrespective of the UK being outside the EU.
The UK has an exceptional reputation as an artistic and creative powerhouse - overseas clients factor in this unique environment when selecting companies to work with. Moreover, British companies have become astute at operating across time differences and managing resources, despite linguistic and geographic barriers.
With the right mindset, Brexit should mean business as usual
While the prime minister has made it clear that immigration is of the utmost importance, we should not enlist creative talent by means of quotas or box-ticking. Recruiting architects and designers is a bespoke process.
Two practices looking for people with similar experience will invariably be seeking very different personalities and creative abilities. The more the government’s policies interfere with the recruitment process, the more cultural diversity in the workplace is in danger of being diluted, as is the value of what we export to the rest of the world.
Looking to Asia
Many UK design businesses are looking to Asia - particularly Hong Kong and Japan - to build on established relationships with clients and consultants, or create connections in the region.
Such is our own confidence in the Asian market that within the next 12 to 18 months we hope to open a studio in Hong Kong, a place that has always nurtured young talent from across the world.
The challenge facing many British businesses in Asia has nothing to do with being outside the EU. Our task is to manage perceptions - highlighting the benefits of collaborating with the many talented designers operating outside the single market and showing that Brexit will not result in London being any less of a magnet for attracting and encouraging the best creative talent in the world.
The UK government needs to ensure that the fundamentals are in place to allow the best designers to continue working here - not least by encouraging an abundant supply of realistically priced accommodation.
With the right mindset, Brexit should mean business as usual; I am confident we can continue
to thrive in the future, as we always have done.