UKLA President’s Report

At the start of the year, as the Coronavirus was taking hold, I was reading “The Meaning of the 21st Century” written by the Pulitzer-prize winning author and futurologist James Martin, who had predicted the internet way back in 1978 in his book “The Wired Society”. He later founded the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University which carries out research into the major global trends and changes in technology, population, health and the climate.

In “The Meaning of the 21st Century”, written in 2006, Martin listed 17 interlinked challenges which pose a threat to human survival in the 21st Century. Number 10 on his list was a global pandemic of an Asian flu or SARS nature, which he predicted “seems inevitable sooner or later” and that “much of the global economy would come to a halt. Economic damage would compound the damage from the disease”.

He sees the 21st Century as a canyon, which the world is rushing towards whilst facing these multiple challenges. Fail to address these, and the planet will be irreversibly damaged and may be able to sustain only a

UEIL President’s Report

As European countries have slowly started to progressively lift lockdowns and are cautiously re-opening business after flattening the Coronavirus curve, we are now facing the challenge of imagining a post Covid-19 return in an environment where a vaccine has yet to be found and economies are still unstable.

Given this context, what is the outlook for SMEs, which form the backbone of UEIL and, in general, of the European economy?

We are often led to believe that the size of SMEs makes them more vulnerable to a crisis because of their lower resources. Yet, SMEs have some unique traits that enable them to be resilient in a crisis, even if they might not have the resources that large enterprises have at their disposal. SMEs actually have an advantage over larger companies since they usually have shorter and nimbler processes, faster decision making, and less bureaucracy. Indeed, the key success factors to win in the “new normal” will be the ability to combine flexibility, adaptability, and elasticity with technological and innovation capabilities, by leveraging digitalisation, optimising the supply chain, and adapting the product and service offering.


fraction of today’s population. He notes that Lord Rees, President of The Royal Society, only gives mankind a 50/50 chance of surviving the century.

But address them systematically and through international cooperation and effective standard setting, and human kind can navigate its way to a glorious future. One especially relevant aspect is the vital role that Industry, and entrepreneurial spirit in particular, has to play in building that future, through our creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.

So a tough read initially, but ultimately optimistic. And a lot falls on our generation and our enterprises to tackle these challenges successfully. But if you are taking the time to reflect on the post-pandemic flu world, or considering global Sustainability at its most fundamental level, or just still looking for something else to read during the lockdown, this is thought- provoking and rewarding.

David Hopkinson, UKLA President

Someone told me recently that if this crisis had happened 15-20 years ago, we would not have been able to work. Indeed, the tremendous progress in digital technologies in recent years has enabled companies to swiftly move to remote working. Are there other ways digitalisation can support our business?

This pandemic has also highlighted vulnerabilities in supply chains, especially for companies with global footprints, but at the same time has provided us with an excellent opportunity to re-think our supply chain, both in terms of reviewing the sourcing strategy to minimise risk or assessing the option of third party blending to serve remote geographies.

Last but not least, innovation and creativity are and will be essential in identifying new revenue opportunities and developing new products and services which respond to demand within the “new normal”.

If there is any way UEIL can support you in this journey, please do not hesitate to contact me or the Secretariat. Stay safe and profitable!

Valentina Serra-Holm, UEIL President

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