Mark McFall: The rise of the chief Brexit officer

The appointment of David Davis to Theresa May's first cabinet with the title of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has piqued the attention of business leaders within the UK, with some now considering appointing a 'chief Brexit officer' or similar.

Mark McFall, managing director of Change Recruitment Group. Picture: Contributed
Mark McFall, managing director of Change Recruitment Group. Picture: Contributed

Both as a country and for individual businesses alike, we must all face up to the fact that in all likelihood Article 50 will be triggered prior to Christmas. With a two-year negotiation period, this means the UK will realistically have left the EU before the end of 2018.

As such, and particularly for multinationals and for those that have holdings, subsidiaries, or do large parts of their business within Europe, preparation is now paramount in advance of this 2018 deadline. Now is absolutely not the time for business to be resting on their haunches awaiting the outcome of negotiations between the EU and UK.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Until these negotiations are complete, we do not, of course, know what the ultimate result will be. And until a final resolution is agreed upon, the situation is likely to be very fluid.

The benefits for those with the foresight to appoint an individual to the position of chief Brexit officer (CBO) or similar could be significant. In a changing landscape the benefits of staying ahead of the competition, engaging successfully with stakeholders, placating fears that may be held by employees, driving revenue, promoting the brand and maintaining and building business through both the UK and Europe would be a massive boon to any business.

Some organisations have begun this process already. KPMG appointed a senior partner to the role of “head of Brexit”, while Anderson Strathern has created a Brexit working group.

Those with the requisite skill-sets to take up the role of a CBO could therefore become some of the most sought after personalities within business over the next two years. Required are individuals with some very niche skills to be able to work in a very specialist role.

So what kind of skills would a chief Brexit officer require?

Along with being a savvy operator, adept at communicating with stakeholders both within and out-with their employer company, a strong business acumen would be required, as would sharp negotiation skills, to be able to drive genuine change.

Whilst a CBO could have a background in various sectors, what he or she would need to bring to the role is a genuine sense of gravitas. Employees and stakeholders would be looking to the CBO for direction, commitment and courage to ensure that the business is in the best possible shape both pre and post 2018. There may well be a certain amount of hesitancy amongst staff and stakeholders alike, and it will be for the CBO to guide them with a clear vision.

The CBO would require the skills to align business functions and units to a consistent and clear way of working over the next two years and beyond. There are likely to be bumps along the road and alignment of functions will ensure course corrections can be made when required.

Experience of leading organisational change and transformation would also be beneficial. Clearly, in some sectors and organisations, the level of change that will be required over the next two years and beyond could be substantial. Those that have worked within a similar change management function before could therefore be ideally suited to the position of a CBO.

Other key skills required could encompass resilience, business shrewdness and analysis – to be able to chart the correct route and to assess the various strengths and weaknesses in a plan – and the ability to build and sustain momentum, to drive the required change and keep up the pace once implemented.

Whether or not British businesses decide to appoint a specific person or a group of people to examine the effects of Brexit, it is imperative that business owners and directors are as well prepared as possible to mitigate any negative effects, but instead maximise the opportunities through future years.

To that end, for those businesses with vested interests in the European market, appointing a chief Brexit officer or similar may be the ideal method to ensure continued success.

• Mark McFall is managing director at Change Recruitment Group