CEO Letter | Scene setting at The Savoy

Walpole’s year always begins with the Chairmen and CEO dinner; it’s our annual scene setter, and on Monday night more than 100 British luxury CEOs met at The Savoy for dinner and to discuss what the forthcoming year holds for the sector.

There’s very little appetite for Dry January at Walpole (I say, try dry February instead – somehow 28 days are much easier to get through) and with Laurent-Perrier to drink as we chatted before dinner, and Chapel Down wines with food, the resolve of those who’d taken a temperance pledge visibly crumbled. Nor was it a good time to be on a post-Christmas diet – The Savoy’s food is always spectacular, and the native British lobster followed by a slow-cooked fillet of beef, with a milk chocolate choux and praline cream for pudding tasted an awful lot better than skinny could ever feel.

As I sat down to write this letter, the news broke that the vote on May’s Brexit deal had gone against her with MPs rejecting her deal by a conclusive majority of 230. This time last year, when we listened to the CBI’s Carolyn Fairbairn give her predictions at the 2018 CEO’s dinner, none of us could have imagined we would have more uncertainty, rather than less, about where Brexit might lead. With 40 days to go until the 29th March deadline, none of us is any clearer on the outcomes.

But beyond the endless uncertainty, the Westminster infighting, and the practical economic considerations of Brexit – not least your concerns about European supply chains, about just-in-time manufacturing, about customs and access to talent – it’s clear from my conversations with you over the last 12 months that Brexit has made us all think about who we are, about what kind of country we want to live in, about the impact of the referendum on Britain’s global reputation. Above all, we’ve talked about what part we can play to help get through this divisive point in our history. As brands. As part of Walpole.

What we have all learned is, as John Donne wrote nearly 400 years ago, no man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. By coming together we have infinitely more power than we have as individuals, and by bringing together 250 British luxury businesses, Walpole is the channel for that collective voice. Individual brands are clever and compelling, but collectively we are a force to be reckoned with. Together, we can make a real difference – we can amplify our strengths – not least when when it comes to export – and this year we will take our trade and media mission back to New York in October for the third time.

The US is the single biggest export market for British luxury and last October’s trip has already resulted in $23 million dollars of press, and nearly £400,000 of sales orders, which we forecast will more than double as the year unfolds. We’ve also turned the burner up under how brilliantly British high end brands contribute to the UK’s global soft power and hopefully the record global media reach of 659 million we achieved for last November’s Walpole Awards will play its part. We have also strengthened our relationships within the European Creative and Cultural Industries Association, the group of luxury associations across Europe which Walpole helped found nearly 10 years ago. This group’s purpose is to lobby the EU on the special business needs of the sector, from selective distribution to craftsmanship and counterfeiting. It is down to Walpole and its work with Altagamma, Comite Colbert and so on, that the EU recognises the high end cultural and creative industries as an inter-group in the Creative Industries in Europe – and Walpole brands will continue to have a seat at the table for issues that will affect our businesses thanks to Walpole’s relationship with the rest of the ECCIA. Post Brexit, we have some work to do to have an equivalent recognition for our sector in Westminster, and that’s a clear objective for me and the Walpole team over the coming months.

When it comes to talent, we’ve also been working hard – there’s a real lack of skilled craftspeople in the UK, exacerbated by brexodus, and so we’ve aimed to go straight to the root of the problem by launching our schools programme, whetting the appetite for our industries and creating a dialogue between local businesses and education up and down the country – building a connection that over time will result in a direct route for young people into employment in the British luxury sector.

No one knows what will happen with Brexit, but we should celebrate how exceptionally well our businesses are doing – those who read the Walpole newsletter will have seen Fortnum & Mason’s brilliant Christmas trading results; Harrods and Selfridges have also experienced strong growth, ditto for Molton Brown, and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has had its strongest year of sales in its 115 years – those are only a fraction of the good news stories that brighten the gloom.

Walpole’s job is to help you continue to flourish – the return of the Walpole Summit on 5th February is packed full of actionable insights about what the future holds for luxury to take back to your businesses. On 13th February, we will launch the 2019 Brands of Tomorrow; since the programme was founded in 2007, Walpole and its members have helped more than 100 new brands on their journey. In March we have the launch of our new Walpole Book of British Luxury, as well as a brand new event to celebrate the individuals driving the sector forward: The Walpole Power List. Looking further ahead, the aforementioned annual trade and media mission to the United States takes place in New York on 22nd to 25th October, and the Walpole Awards will be on 18th November (black tie again, chaps). And don’t forget that Walpole hosts a monthly member social for those of you who want to meet over a glass of wine to talk with other member brands, to build partnerships and share news.

Above all Walpole’s job is to create community – to make it easy for the British luxury sector to be John Donne’s Continent, not an archipelago of 250 islands. When you join us at some or all of the 40 events already scheduled for 2019, you play your part in building the collective spirit and the strength of the sector – thank you.


Chief Executive | Walpole
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