‘The Border is not just about economic outcomes, it’s about people’

Brexit Proof Q&A: Katie Doran, partner in Lanyon Group, Belfast city centre

Katie Doran: “Brexit has taught me that there is absolutely no certainty over anything anymore.”

Katie Doran: “Brexit has taught me that there is absolutely no certainty over anything anymore.”

 

Katie Doran is a partner at Lanyon Group which employs eight people in Belfast city centre. The three main strands of the business are: communication consultancy; stakeholder engagement; and reputation management.

What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the EU?

On the day the result was announced, we were managing an event for a client which was all about celebrating success and growth. The referendum result completely changed the tone of that event. There was utter shock and disbelief.

I genuinely couldn’t believe the result and couldn’t get my head around why anyone could think withdrawing from something which has been fundamentally positive for everyone was a good idea.

There is a complete lack of understanding by and awareness of the unique set of circumstances we have in this part of the world amongst the London-based politicians and decision-makers. The Border is not just about economic outcomes, customs and tariffs, it’s about people, hearts and minds, and sustained peace for all of us today and tomorrow. At times, I have found the ignorance around these sentiments completely bewildering.

How is your business likely to be affected?

To date, most of the impact has been in terms of supporting our clients to manage the impact within their organisations.

If Brexit causes the economy to retract, that would have significant impact on us as we rely on a strong dynamic economy. If our clients business is impacted, we will be impacted.

How much do you rely on exports or the supply of materials across the Border?

We don’t. However, we have many clients across energy, manufacturing and agri-food who rely on cross-border trade every day, so we are very close to the potential impact. If they decide to relocate that would impact us.

When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place so far?

In autumn 2016, we undertook an analysis of how Brexit might impact our business and our plans for growth and, like many businesses, quickly came to realise that it was a huge unknown.

Are you examining new markets/suppliers and, if so, how practical is that?

Operating as an SME, we have to look at new markets, but I can’t honestly say that is because of Brexit, it’s just part of our plans to grow our business from a Belfast base but work with clients globally.

Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?

Brexit has created a pipeline of advisory work for us to our existing client base in terms of employee engagement and communications. However, we understand we operate in a world where things change very quickly and you have to be dynamic. If anything, Brexit has made us understand the volatility of business even more. If anything, Brexit has taught me that there is absolutely no certainty over anything anymore and politics is currently at its most fragile.

When do you expect to be Brexit-ready?

Is anyone truly Brexit-ready? Does anyone really know what it will look like?

What’s your best/worst case scenario?

Best case is no Brexit. Peace on this island is fundamentally the most important factor and I don’t think the EU member states will allow anything to happen which could harm or impact lasting peace. It goes without saying a hard Border is my worst-case scenario, not just for economic reasons, but also for social and political ones.

How might the Irish or British governments, or the EU, help ease the pain of Brexit for your company or sector?

The focus must be on driving a strong economy here in the north of Ireland and to do that we need significant funding in infrastructure and skills.

There also needs to be significantly more investment in our universities and further education colleges, with the caps on student numbers removed to future-proof the talent supply chain here.

How do you think the Irish/British (or both) governments has handled the Brexit negotiations?

A strong, positive, collaborative relationship between Ireland and the UK is fundamental to the future success of these islands – we are a connected people in so many ways and relationships must be protected. That will require strong leadership, which at times has been frankly lacking.

Looking out five years, how do you think your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?

Any business owner worth their salt has to be positive about the future. Business can’t change Brexit, we just have to deal with the aftermath, but I am very positive about the future and hope that it will be brighter than ever. We have just made a major investment in new offices on Bedford Street, in the business district of Belfast, so hopefully in five years’ time, we will be bursting at the seams and ready to expand again.

Would you like to see a second referendum on Brexit?

I am an eternal optimist and I believe that good sense will prevail. Previously, I would have liked another referendum but I am concerned that the outcome in another referendum, due to the absolute lethargy over Brexit amongst the general public, may deliver another devastating blow.