The head of a major business support organisation in Greater Manchester has been appointed as an Honorary Professor of Productivity and Innovation at Alliance Manchester Business School.
Mark Hughes MBE is Group Chief Executive of The Growth Company which provides business support, finance, training, and accreditation services to thousands of businesses across the city region and nationally. He will take up his new role at The Productivity Institute which is based at AMBS.
Mr Hughes said he was thrilled to be joining the School and that his appointment would build on the extensive collaboration that already takes place between The Growth Company and The University of Manchester.
“Just like the University we are a major anchor institution in Greater Manchester (GM), driven by furthering its prosperity that is inclusive and sustainable. We already have a number of ongoing projects with the University and I see this appointment as a great opportunity to further build on that work.
“For instance, we work with the University to assist SME innovation and introduce new products and services, while we also already work with AMBS on a leadership and management programme for SMEs.”
“The Productivity Institute, which is a nationwide research organisation headquartered in Manchester, aims to contribute to tackling the productivity problem at national and regional level, including at our home base in Greater Manchester. Mark’s appointment speaks to the latter, given the widely acclaimed role he and The Growth Company are playing in the Combined Authority to support productivity through innovation. We are looking forward to work with Mark.”
Mr Hughes said that there were obvious synergies between The Growth Company and the work of researchers based at The Productivity Institute.
“One of the key drivers of the Growth Company is to improve the value of the GM economy, and productivity and innovation are key to that. The real challenge for our organisation is how we can help embed improved productivity in a far greater proportion of businesses so that we have a greater number of more productive businesses across GM.
“What I see on a day-to-day basis is that some business leaders have a specific focus on productivity and embrace it, making the productivity challenge a specific project within their organisation. But most companies focus on the underlying drivers and components of productivity and could benefit from a greater understanding and focus on the wider picture.
“The key questions around productivity for me are ‘what is the evidence base for change and improvement at the business unit level?’ And how can we get the evidence base into those types of businesses that most need it? It is all about the communication and application, and that is down to the actual skills that managers have. Only by coming at productivity through people do you actually make improvements.”
Mr Hughes added that the pandemic had intensified the debate around productivity.
“In the pandemic some businesses have thrived, some have disappeared, and most worked exceptionally hard to get through it. But what we know is that COVID-19 has turbocharged digitalisation and innovation, and if you look at sectors such as retail and hospitality it has led to companies completely re-inventing their business and delivery models driven by the need to go virtual.
“In so doing many have also experienced improved productivity as an unintended consequence as they have gone about further enhancing the consumer experience. The question now is how these companies can build on this and how we can help them become higher value and more productive. This is particularly prescient as they continue to face headwinds, whether that’s from the threat of higher inflation, supply chain constraints, or labour market shortages.
“Likewise, how we as an organisation upskill our own advisers and understand better how to help companies become more productive is really important. As part of my new role, I will be looking at the latest evidence from the Productivity Institute and thinking about how that can be transferred into my own organisation and onwards to those SMEs which we assist.”
Meanwhile Mr Hughes welcomes the fact that productivity is now moving higher up the national political and economic agenda. For instance, former Bank of England Chief Economist joined Andy Haldane, who also recently joined AMBS as an Honorary Professor, has been appointed to head the UK’s levelling-up taskforce, reporting to both the Prime Minister and Michael Gove who runs the new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Said Mr Hughes: “This is clearly a very interesting moment in terms of the productivity debate, so strongly linked as it is with the wider levelling-up, innovation, sustainability and skills agendas. There is now definitely an opportunity for a better dialogue about what can be done well at the local level, and how national and local can work together effectively.
“At the end of the day the UK actually has some of the most productive businesses in the world, so we know we have the underlying abilities. It is just that we don’t have enough of these businesses compared to some other countries and that’s where we need to improve.”