Businesses did not emotionally prepare for Brexit, but now is not the time for excuses

Hayley Kirton
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A Brexit publication at the Conservative party conference
Brexit is no excuse, warned the report (Source: Getty)

Despite being ready for a Leave vote on paper, many businesses were emotionally unprepared for Brexit, a report out today has found.

The study by Alvarez & Marsal, written in collaboration with Henley Business School, warned that the lack of diversity among board members had lulled many into believing there was only one outcome they really needed to plan for.

"It does raise some questions about diversity and thinking on the boards," Malcolm McKenzie, managing director of Alvarez & Marsal, told City A.M. "The opinion polls were marginally in favour of Remain but it wasn't conclusive so boards were a little bit wrong footed on some of this."

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McKenzie continued: "It's wrong to say that boards didn't do any thinking about it. I think all the board members we talked to did some thinking and there was analysis done... [but] that emotional thing, what you believe is going to happen, is quite important in a board because that's what you take seriously."

However, the report also noted firms would suffer more if they used Brexit as an excuse to delay decisions and instead should be looking for ways to take advantage of the opportunities presented, such as using the vote as a chance to renegotiate procurement or review their operating models.

McKenzie noted that, while the researchers had seen examples of smaller businesses and particularly private equity funds using the referendum as an opportunity to reopen talks, "we didn't really find examples of big listed businesses that had done similar things".

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This advice is even more important in light of one of the report's other findings: that Brexit will have a slow burn effect on businesses and should not be treated as if it was a big one-off.

McKenzie described the fallout of the vote as a "mini cluster bomb of little disruptions that will be going off over the next few years".

The report also noted that some sectors, such as the banking industry which is currently fighting to retain passporting rights, had been severely impacted by the outcome of the vote, while it was business as usual for others.

A number of reports carried out in the run up of the referendum warned that businesses were woefully unprepared should there be a Leave decision.

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Grant Thornton discovered in March that two-thirds (65 per cent) of businesses were yet to do anything to prepare for a potential Brexit, while Pinsent Mason revealed in May that conversations about what to do in the event of a Leave vote were yet to take place at board level in more than half (53 per cent) of firms across Britain, France and Germany.

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