Shifting the focus to an enterprise culture


OPINION: Industry leaders cannot stand by and leave the future of Ireland’s economic and cultural well being in the hands of the politicians

SHORT-TERM action to deal with current financial woes will not deliver economic renewal. This has got to be balanced by clear action on industrial policy. As a parent, a business leader and as someone with a vested interest in the economic renewal and future success of the Irish economy, I am grateful to have been given the opportunity of being one of the 180 delegates who will attend Ireland’s first Global Economic Forum in Farmleigh later this week.

This weekend’s Global Economic Forum conference at Farmleigh House in Dublin is a great opportunity for Ireland – and I stress the word “opportunity’’, because I view the forum as an opportunity for business and political leaders to come together to truly begin positioning this small, export-driven country for real and sustained economic renewal and growth.

This cannot just be a meeting of national and international high-achievers who will go home and feel good about themselves after what promises to be a stimulating weekend of debate and conversation. This cannot be yet another talking shop with lofty aspirations, and no actual agreed action and implementation plan (where sustained thought-through and well-developed action is urgently required).

Ireland needs a blueprint to shape our industrial policy in a way that allows us to capitalise on the new, as well as established, global opportunities for Irish enterprise. Of late, the agendas of both Government and industry have been completely dominated (understandably) with fixing our financial woes – that alone is only one part of the mix. As a nation we must perfect the skill of doing many important tasks at the same time; our industrial policy is a huge priority as choices we make now are essential to our future.

An enterprise culture has to be a cornerstone of our national recovery plan. Equally – let’s not be naive – the reality is that business will only come to Ireland if the business case to come here stacks up; the same rule applies to retaining business that is based here today.

The great trading nations of the future will not just be competitive, they will be super competitive. We need to take Ireland’s national competitiveness to a completely new level, where we do not settle for being stuck well down the pile on some international competitiveness index. Nor can we leave Ireland’s future wellbeing in the hands of the politicos alone. Industry leaders both in Ireland and from the Irish diaspora abroad have a key role to play in supporting the Government, a Government which is battling on a number of fronts.

The real danger is that short-term actions will not be balanced with the longer-term solutions required urgently to ensure Ireland’s sustainability as an economic force. As industry leaders, we have to demand ambition, leadership and action from the Government while at the same time support and become deeply involved in the process of finding the solutions that position Ireland and its citizens to prosper in what will be a changed reality in just a few short years’ time.

While we are now in a time of crisis, we are also in a time of enormous potential opportunity, provided this country is positioned to deal with the new realities of a global economy, slowly but surely emerging from the deepest of deepest recessions. As managing director of a leading multinational operating in Ireland, I am driving a vision within HP globally of where Ireland should be, and that is an Ireland that is perceived and recognised internationally as a global hub for knowledge, innovation and know-how. Obviously, that expertise and those competencies need to be supported by graduates coming out of school and universities who can feed into that vision, and would then be provided with high-value jobs. This would need to be supported by infrastructure and the competitiveness that we require as an economy to drive it.

What I have just articulated is what success should look like if the Global Economic Forum is to achieve its objectives.

What needs to happen, though, if that success is to become the actual reality?

Although the Government has pressing short-term problems to be resolved, I see no evidence of a clear focus on industrial policy. Our vision of the industrial policy that will shape a new prosperous Ireland for the 21st century is just as great a priority as anything else. The choices we make now on industrial policy and building enterprises for the future are essential to the mix.

Our future wealth rests on becoming an export-driven centre for the global economy. What we have to do is integrate a new enterprise culture into our national strategy for recovery and put the elements in place now that will make it work. Unless we locate our vision for wealth creation and job creation within our national strategy for survival, we risk leaving our future to chance.

Continued foreign direct investment has to be a priority but it will not provide this country with a panacea. We need to be far more ambitious in our thinking and in our approach. Because we are a small open economy, excellence has to be our trademark.

We must build on what we have already to generate new export-orientated companies that will create wealth and create high-value jobs for Ireland.

We also have to create a new identity for Ireland on the global stage, an Ireland where enterprise culture is dedicated to exploiting unmet global needs across a wide range of economic activities – where enterprises are built on: high value-added exports in goods and services that create wealth and jobs; an education system that fosters ICT literacy at all levels, particularly primary and secondary education; an industrial support infrastructure that fits, in particular a next-generation network that will provide a competitive advantage to our internationally trading businesses; and finally, an uncompromising commitment to maintaining national economic competitiveness.

On restoring competitiveness, cutting costs is the immediate action being debated and acted upon – and rightly so as prices and the social and economic costs of living and working in Ireland must be reduced from the astronomical levels they rose to during the boom years .

There is no getting away from the fact that public sector reform at all levels is a key step to building an affordable Ireland. Competitiveness will not be achieved by cutting costs alone. We have to also deliver a better service at a lower cost through innovation. The aim is to think smart, work smart and buy smart.

What I am demanding is a new enterprise culture, focused on exports of goods and services to the global economy, as a vital part of any national strategy for getting Ireland back on track. Industry is more than prepared to play its role in building our future. I personally have very high expectations, and so should the citizens of this country. Ireland will get back on track, Ireland will prosper, Ireland will thrive and be one of the great trading nations in the new world. It will happen as Government and industry work together on the required action and solutions.

Martin Murphy is managing director of Hewlitt-Packard Ireland

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