Networking: The recently elected first female chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce, Alison Macleod talks about her ambitions for the business group and the challenges faced by Luxembourg.
Refreshingly forthright, Alison Macleod says she would not have put her name forward for the position of chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce for Luxembourg “if I did not wish to build on the existing platform.”
Macleod, a partner at KPMG, has targeted four areas of focus for the BCC, including improving the UK’s position within the EU, which she believes is not strong at the moment. She wants the chamber to put forward a strong message that the UK is a vibrant country with lots of opportunities for trade and mutual interest in Luxembourg.
“A key component of this is our need to reach out to other industry groups and chambers of commerce from other countries to promote Luxembourg as a place to do business,” she says.
Expanding the programme
Macleod is not afraid to confront criticism, and agrees that the chamber may not have tapped sufficiently into the younger generation and is keen to look for ways of expanding the BCC programme to attract younger business people. She would also like to make tweaks to the nature of BCC events, to make them a little more social. “Networking is an important aspect of business life in Luxembourg.”
Ensuring that Luxembourg remains competitive is a challenge on a broader scale. “Luxembourg has been brilliant in reacting to changes and finding new opportunities for the country. This has never been easy, but I suspect that it is going to become harder in an environment of greater international regulation,” she explains.
The chamber’s tax group is in dialogue with the government specifically about this issue. But Europe’s less clear role in the global economy also represents a challenge for the Grand Duchy. “As a small but very influential country, Luxembourg has to show leadership and skill in not being marginalised in these difficult times for Europe.”
Speaking the day before the UK general election, the subject of a British referendum on its future in the EU was unavoidable. Macleod says it is too early to speculate about the impact of an unprecedented exit from the EU.
“Clearly, a Brexit is not what the business community wants.” She also reveals that the chamber contributed to the gathering of evidence for the UK government’s Balance of Competence exercise. “Which has been buried because it failed to expose significant areas where anyone believed it appropriate to transfer powers back from the EU to national governments.”
First female chair
Asked about the significance of being the first female chairman of the chamber, Macleod says she is never totally convinced by the replies of many women who are asked the question. “They are normally based around the phrase ‘the right person for the position’.”
She is immensely proud of her appointment and says she is fortunate to have built a career in the professional services industry which has a reputation for enabling women to reach their true potential--she cites the examples of recent managing partners at PWC and KPMG, Marie-Jeanne Chèvremont and Karin Riehl.
“My appointment is, I think, a small step that shows gender diversity is happening. Slower than women might wish, but all progress is good.”