What Role Will Reputation Play If Britain Is To Become A New Silicon Valley?

What Role Will Reputation Play If Britain Is To Become A New Silicon Valley?

Claire Walker

Claire Walker

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Politicians making grandiose claims is as old as time itself. Call me cynical, but often these claims are revealed by scrutiny and time to be nothing more than just that—claims.

So, when Jeremy Hunt, backed by Rishi Sunak, recently outlined (several times) his vision to make the U.K. the “next Silicon Valley,” I couldn’t help but meet this with a healthy dose of skepticism. However, in this instance, they may be on to something. Britain is still a great place to do business and has consistently shown its willingness and capability to develop its tech credentials. So, is this possible?

There are many reasons to think that it is, but to get there, the role of reputation cannot be understated. If people believe it to be a technology hub, where they can set up and invest, or where skilled workers can flock to for employment, then a good chunk of the battle will be won. However, reputations must be built on top of something substantive—it cannot simply become true by saying it repeatedly and hoping for the best.

Building A Solid Reputation As A Tech Hub

In many regards, though, the foundations have been laid. Over 3 million people are employed in the tech sector in the U.K., from companies like Monzo, Skyscanner and Deliveroo, to a host of other small startups and scaleups. The U.K. also has eight locations with more than two unicorns.

This means that the overall value of tech companies in the U.K. exceeded $1 trillion at the end of 2022, which is only exceeded by China and the U.S., and more than doubling since 2018, showing the monumental rate of development.

All of this shows that the fundamentals are there. However, this alone will not be enough. It is also essential to foster a reputation both internally and externally that can help capitalize on the momentum that Britain has built. This is no easy task as reputations are notoriously hard to establish but easy to ruin.

The Challenges

In this regard though, it has not all been smooth sailing, and the downfall of some tech companies has brought this to light. For example, WANdisco, a Sheffield-based data company that was founded in 2005, had often throughout its journey been touted as a U.K. tech success story and evidence of Britain’s rising standing in the global tech order. Recently, it was set to be listed on the U.S. stock exchange at a proposed value of almost £900 million—a valuation that would have put it among the U.K. tech company elite.

Its story in some ways was too good to be true—and unfortunately, this is how it turned out. In March 2023, WANdisco revealed to investors that it had uncovered “significant, sophisticated and potentially fraudulent irregularities” relating to a senior member of its sales team. WANdisco’s reputation was left in tatters. Crises like these can sometimes devastate companies permanently.

This raises questions about the U.K. tech scene as a whole: What impact do situations like this have on the reputation of the U.K. as a tech powerhouse?

If this was an isolated incident, perhaps it could be explained away as an unfortunate episode in an otherwise thriving industry. However, other situations, like investigations into accounting practices or companies simply not living up to the hype, also contribute to the U.K.’s reputation.

What Business Leaders Can Do

In the aggregate, these things can have an enormous impact on Britain’s reputation, and more care needs to be afforded to ensuring that a robust and trusted reputation as a place where tech companies can invest and innovate.

Everyone in the industry is responsible for this, our leaders included, and much of the issue seemingly stems from a desire to succeed, which can cloud judgment. It is all well and good proclaiming that Britain is ready to take on the world, but until we are certain that we are on that path, we need to tread carefully.

So, as business leaders, when looking to safeguard our reputations, what things should we be thinking about?

Crucial to this is to view leadership reputation management as a business imperative, and not something that you can neglect at any moment. In today’s world, the reputation of either a company or its leader is inextricably linked to business outcomes—think of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, now X—and this means that shaping and maintaining a positive reputation should be viewed as just as important as revenue or costs.

This has to come from the top, but should also be the responsibility of a coherent and robust leadership ecosystem around the leader, that all work in tandem to curate a positive and consistent message to stakeholders and customers alike.

This will allow firms to develop an identity, and one that builds trust not only for themselves, but also the wider U.K. tech scene.

Britain has an enormous opportunity to take the next step and truly compete on the global scale, well beyond its relatively small population. To get there, though, all the pieces matter, and reputation is at the very core of this.

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