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Reviewing 2022 ⁠– business leaders reflect on a challenging year

C-suite executives from a range of sectors tell Raconteur about their trials and triumphs over the past 12 months
Business People Walking Through The City At Dawn.

The past year has posed serious challenges for the UK private sector, including political instability, disrupted supply chains, rising energy bills, skills shortages, and the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit.

That’s on top of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, with inflation reaching a 41-year high of 11.1% in November. It all means businesses are tasked with making money from an economy that has very little of it.

But a difficult year does not denote an impossible one. Even in a recession there are opportunities to be grasped. Here, executive staff across a range of sectors reflect on their biggest challenges and successes in 2022.

Will Butler-Adams, CEO at Brompton Bicycle 

For Butler-Adams, 2022 has been a “rollercoaster ride”, featuring “financially and emotionally testing” circumstances, but also presenting timely business opportunities.

“Covid, Brexit, supply chain shortages, logistics costs and inflation” have all caused headaches for the folding bike manufacturer. “But we are a stronger, more determined company as a result of everything we have been through,” Butler-Adams says. “Honest communication, teamwork and a strong belief in what we are doing have got us through. Our mission to create urban freedom for happier lives is more relevant now than it has ever been.”

Brompton’s greatest success of 2022, Butler-Adams says, was launching its new ultra-light 7.5kg T Line model, made entirely on British soil. “The T Line is a total redesign of the Brompton. Every part is different, except the brake callipers, every element optimised for weight and performance, taking the engineering to the limit. The T line has been a figment of my imagination for many years so to now ride it is a joy.”

Brompton has reacted smartly to the world around it, Butler-Adams claims. During the numerous rail strikes of 2022, the company offered free rental of its bikes. “The results have been super positive,” he reflects, “with around 20% of people who have used our bike hire going on to buy a bike and start cycling.”

The past year has yielded record-high temperatures, adding an exclamation point to the need to act on climate change, Butler-Adams notes. “We have been told this [climate change] has been coming for decades but didn’t believe the science. Now it is a reality with 40-degree days in the UK, raging fires across the Americas and biblical floods in Asia.”

Brompton is not a panacea, Butler-Adams admits, “but it has an important part to play. We have a million Bromptons being ridden around the world, and we have only just started. Most of the people in the world live in cities and this is only going to increase.”

The past year should confirm bikes as a “no-brainer” component of carbon efficiency, he argues. “The solution to our cities’ problems is not the electric car. This requires 2000kg to move an 80kg human less than 5km across a city, it takes up precious space, and uses a large amount of carbon to be produced. You can deliver the same outcome with a 15kg electric bicycle. It is good for your mind and soul, and all the rest.”

Kelly Hoppen, founder and CEO at Kelly Hoppen Interiors 

For interior designer Hoppen, ‘longevity’ is the watchword for her industry in 2022. As people spend more time at home due to hybrid working models, she explains, it’s vitally important that her products are long-lasting and comfortable, contributing to a positive working space.

This has been mirrored by the modernisation of her company’s studio and its policy on remote or flexible working. “I had to figure out how to engage everyone back in the studio but more than that I had to figure out how to communicate again as I could see it wasn’t the same as before,” she says. “Once I had worked out what to do to engage and communicate across my team and business, what I saw was that it was very quick for everyone to fall back into an easy, comfortable design work space.”

Staff wellbeing will be key to any company’s capacity to weather the recession. “Managing our team as the pandemic has arguably affected people’s mental health way more than anyone expected” was an important learning curve, Hoppen notes. “Good comes from every situation… Positive thoughts and supporting each other and knowing there is a solution for everything has helped us to overcome the challenges of the past year.”

Although the UK is facing a recession, Hoppen says the desire and need for luxury still exists. “If you are a businesswoman or designer, you are always watching the trends through business, markets, and people’s wants and needs and so you flow seamlessly with this,” she says. “People observe how they live differently now and there is a new type of appreciation not seen before, so it is a good thing in my eyes. Longevity in the home is the key trend.”

Mauro Cozzi, co-founder and CEO at Emitwise 

Cozzi’s data company Emitwise helps businesses calculate their carbon footprint and the cost to offset it. Many companies in 2022, he reflects, still viewed greening their business as a costly burden rather than a long-term and rewarding investment. “Showing businesses that they will profit from responsible carbon management is the biggest challenge we have encountered,” he says. “To some decision-makers, this can seem illogical, but it is completely true that good environmental standards lead to good economic growth.”

Cozzi believes “more transparency of carbon data” is key to tackling climate change. “Just last week I spoke with board members of two large public European companies who said that both boards are concerned about the quality of their carbon accounting,” he says. “The reality is that some businesses will be saying one thing about their green credentials without genuinely delivering. More and more regulations are coming into place.” For organisations that don’t have a handle on their data, he warns, “such regulation could uncover greenwashing on a significant scale.”

For Cozzi, Emitwise’s biggest success in 2022 was hiring Marc Engel, ex-chief supply chain officer of Unilever, as an adviser. “Marc is one of the top 10 global leaders in sustainability and he is taking a hands-on approach at Emitwise to help us drive forward our mission to decarbonise the biggest supply chains in the world.”

Sarah Smith, planning partner at Rapleys LLP 

It has been a challenging year for the UK property market, with the number of housing sales down and mortgage interest rates up. Reflecting on 2022, Smith says the energy crisis has “forced everyone to think about their properties more and the drive towards doing what they can do to be more aware of their homes’ performance.” Hopefully, she adds, “this will also [lead to] more landlords investing in retrofitting to keep good tenants.”

Local and national government could have done more to support the property industry over the past 12 months, Smith suggests. “Housing delivery, in terms of speed, amount and affordability,  is a major issue for the country,” she says. “Lack of clarity from the government over the direction of planning reform or review and chronic underfunding of planning departments is causing huge uncertainty for councils and developers and providers alike. Local plans are being pulled or put on hold; examinations take years in some cases, with arguments over housing numbers or need, development of greenfield or green belt, and development viability.”

Affordable housing, Smith says, is the biggest loser in this situation, as it is ultimately reliant on market delivery. She notes that “30% or 40% of nothing is nothing.” The lack of a comprehensive review of the greenbelt policy generally and a lack of clarity on potential reviews to how minimum housing need is calculated is a “stifling development”, Smith adds. “For me, the most significant policy impacts are the ones that haven’t been made.”

Despite the challenging year, Smith is proud of of her company’s internal work in training and developing its staff. “To recruit talented people in an uncertain market is a challenge as the best don’t want to move. However, as we have just invested in our people, brand and infrastructure, we are confident that with our positive message ⁠– despite the gloomy economic outlook ⁠– we can attract talent who want to work on interesting projects across the UK in a nice, collaborative environment that rewards well.”